Month: <span>November 2015</span>

ows_144380183016065Political dynasties are as American as apple pie.   We all know the names Bush, Clinton, Rockefeller, Roosevelt and Kennedy.  Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (1888-1969) and Rose Kennedy (1890-1995) produced nine children together and helped create a legacy that continues to this day.   Tragically they lost four of their nine children to violent deaths.  Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy (1932-2009) carried the touch for the family for many years until his own death in 2009.  In death, they became larger than life figures who became staples of American politics.  But behind the historical speeches, money, looks and fame was a Kennedy whose life took a tragic course of its own.  She is nearly forgotten in history books about the Kennedys but her story is one that must be told.  And here, Kate Clifford Larson tells the sad story of Rose Marine “Rosemary” Kennedy (1918-2005).

From the outset, the story is gripping as Rose realizes that something is not right with her daughter who seems to be developing much slower than she should be.  It is not long before it is realized that Rosemarie is developmentally disabled.  Rose refuses to give up and teaches her daughter, eventually making enough progress where Rosemarie is able to function with some independence.  Larson even includes snippets of letters Rosemarie wrote showing both her progress and lack of development.

In the time period in which mental disability was rarely spoken of and in primitive stages of treatment, the Kennedy family name had much to lose.  And this could not be allowed.  The family desperately wanted to help its beloved Rosemarie and her father Joe, finds out about another new experimental treatment.  And this is the turning point in the book and the author captures the tragedy perfectly, driving home the point to the reader.   For Rosemarie, her life would never be the same again and in some ways was  over for good.  Tragically, she spent the rest of her life in an assisted living facility, never again able to venture out on her own.  In seclusion, she remained a carefully guarded secret but her sisters would use her disability in one of the most moving examples to date.

While she may have been unaware, Rosemary’s condition served as the catalyst for her brother John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) and sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver  (1921-2009) to create the Special Olympics, through the Kennedy Foundation in partnership with several organizations.   The Special Olympics continues to this day and through the games, the memory of Rosemary Kennedy lives on.  This is her story, the good, the bad and the heartbreaking.

ISBN-10: 0544811909
ISBN-13: 978-0544811904


51v-zflygul-_sy344_bo1204203200_The fallout from the arrest and subsequent conviction of Warren Jeffs shocked the Fundamental Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and its contingent of believers. The man who proclaimed himself to be the prophet has been revealed to be nothing more than a pedophile with a talent for extreme rhetoric.  He and many other powerful men, kept the members of the FLDS in an iron grip was they exploited them for their own personal gain.  Child labor, sexual abuse and underage marriage have resulted in infamy and the interest of State and Federal authorities.  Defectors from the church have become testifying witnesses and told their stories on television and in books. Among these heroic individuals if Carolyn Jessop, whose own story of escape and survival is just as moving and shocking as many others.  In confluence with ‘Stolen Innocence‘ and ‘The Witness Wore Red‘, she also takes the reader deep inside the FLDS to witness the reality faced by her and dozens of young women who are married off to far older men who sometimes are even related to them by blood.  At the age of eighteen, Carolyn is married to Merrill Jessop, a leading figure in the FLDS.  Over fifteen years, she gave birth to eight children, including one with a sever physical disability.   Miraculously, she escapes the church and starts a new life but her old life remains with her as a reminder of the fate faced by other young girls who are unable to make their own escape.

Laura Palmer who is an author of several books including another with Jessop titled Triumph, puts Carolyns words into writing as she tells her incredible life story that is sure to leave the reader in a state of shock and confusion.  To some it may seem unreal that her story is being told in 2007. But the reality is that in some parts of this country, things are done in a completely different way.   But the question is when does that way become both a crime and tragedy?  Jessop in some ways was lucky, she gained freedom for herself and all of her eight children.   Others who have left have not been as fortunate and have had to get authorities involved to reclaim their families.  And some have even faced continued harassment from the community they once called home.  As to be expected, the book’s antagonist is her former husband Merrill, a man much older and of a sometimes vindictive nature. His actions in the book are beyond reprehensible but critical in understanding the methods of control both physically and mentally that are employed by the powerful male members of the FLDS.

There are times where the book is a tough read and some parts are infuriating. But if you can make it through, you will find yourself in her corner rooting for her and her children to finally gain their freedom.  And in this case, she truly does save the best for last.  Leaving the only culture you have ever known is never easy and for those that do, they leave behind people that they despise but also people that they love deeply.  The human mind is an invention that continues to mystify even those that understand it the best.  Carolyn’s story reminds us that not all prisons are physical.  The power of the mind is often underestimated and taken for granted.  If I had been born into a FLDS family, perhaps my way of thinking would be different from the way it is now.  I use the term free thinking in the title of the blog because I believe that everyone should have the ability to engage in free thought and form their own opinions. After finishing Jessop’s story, I am even more grateful for the many freedoms I do have and I make it a point to never take any of them for granted.  For a good story about the real FLDS, this is a good place to start.

ISBN-10: 0767927575
ISBN-13: 978-0767927574




scarpaOn June 4, 1994, Greg “The Grim Reaper” Scarpa died of AIDS related complications at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota.  The former mobster is known as one of the most feared killers in mafia history.   Joseph Valachi is thought to be the first made member of a La Costra Nostra family to shed light on the dark secrets held by the mafia.  Following Scarpa’s death, it came to light that he had been an informant for the FBI as early as 1953 preceding Valachi by ten years.  Unlike Valachi, he never testified and while an informant he continued to operate on the streets of New York with sometimes very deadly consequences.  From all accounts, he took part in or played a supporting role in dozens of murders, some of which remained unsolved.   His son, Greg Scarpa, Jr., is still incarcerated but has renounced his former life as a mobster and continues his quest to have his conviction reviewed and his jail time reduced.  I was previously familiar with the author Peter Lance, having read his book ‘A Thousand Years For Revenge’ as a sophomore at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.   This book on Scarpa came as a recommendation from Amazon and I jumped at the chance to read this engaging and shocking expose.  And while the cover of the book is highly enticing on its own, what’s contained is the pages of this book is nothing short of mind-boggling and will make you question everything you thought you knew about the trials and convictions of mobsters, most notably, John Gotti, Vic Orena, Sr.,  Sammy “The Bull” Gravano and Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso.  And next to Scarpa, Casso figures prominently throughout the book and his relationship with the government is just as fascinating.

Lance does a masterful and mesmerizing job of investigation the government’s relationship with Scarpa and the intelligence he was providing to the FBI.   Receiving intelligence in return from the bureau, Scarpa was given a free pass to continue his criminal enterprise, avoid criminal prosecution and perfect his craft as a stone cold killer making the streets of Brooklyn run red with blood.  Lin DeVecchio, who was his handler, was charged and later acquitted of four homicides related to his relationship with Scarpa. And while he avoided prosecution, this book sheds new light on his actions at the time resulting in even more questions than answers.  DeVecchio didn’t take part in this book and never responded to Lance’s requests for interviews.   Whether his choice to avoid Lance is admission of guilt or a carefully thought out plan of defense is up to the reader to decide.  What is clear from this book is that for 30 years, Greg Scarpa, Sr., enjoyed a privilege seldom given to mafia killers.  Following his death, the fallout from his time as a confidential informant continued for several years.   However, not all of the fallout was negative.  In fact, Lance reveals several important details regarding the war on terror that have a direct relationship with the Grim Reaper himself through his son Greg Scarpa, Jr., and his incarceration with the infamous terrorists Ramzi Yousef and Terry Nichols.  For those who have studied the first World Trade Center bombing and the Federal Building  bombing in Oklahoma, this section of the book will be highly interesting.  When I started reading this I literally could not put it down.   For information on Greg Scarpa, the Colombo Crime Family wars and the government’s fight against and collusion with the mafia, this book is a must read.



Organized Crime

El salvadorIt’s often said that everyone comes into your life for a reason.  Fairly recently, I became acquainted with a lovely young woman who has since become a very close friend.  She was born in El Salvador and forced to flee her home with her family during one of the worst civil wars in modern history.  Because I was quite young at the time of the conflict, my knowledge of the situation and the experiences of the survivors was severely limited, making it difficult for me to offer any meaningful comments to her story.  However, I listened thoroughly and have never forgotten what she’s told me and it was through her stories that I began to further understand the turmoil that continues to plague Latin America to this very day. Recently I read the autobiography of retired marine Oliver North.  Most readers will remember him from the Iran-Contra scandal in the mid 1980s during President Regan’s administration.  Forced to be the scapegoat following congressional hearings into the intelligence activities to free hostages in Libya and fund the contras in Nicaragua against the Sandinista National Liberation Front, North faded into the background and now lives a quiet life far removed from his former activities. It was in this book that I began to understand the events that occurred in El Salvador, why they happened, who is to blame and why they should never be forgotten.

Based on my reading of North’s book (my review of which can be found here),  Amazon recommended this short book by Joseph B. Frazier, a correspondent for the Associated Press and Vietnam veteran who covered Central America extensively during the 1970s and 1980s.  These are his memories of his time in El Salvador during the country’s bloodiest era.  Caught in between a fierce battle between a U.S. backed government and rebel forces led the by FMLN, civilians, missionaries, journalist and even clergy would be murdered, the most notable of which is the late Father Oscar Romero, played by Raul Julia on the silver screen. The war raged for 12 years before both sides agreed to a truce in 1992 at The Chapultepec Peace Accords in Mexico, City.  Twenty three years have passed since the treaty, and today, not much is said about the small Central American nation.  American has long forgotten about the contra scandal and news from El Salvador barely makes it on to American television.  Gang violence has surged and the nation finds itself in a battle against crime almost as deadly as the battle between the Duarte administration and the FMLN. Second to Honduras, it has one of the highest murder rates in the world and the battles between far-left and far-right political parties continue making the future of the small nation uncertain.  While steps toward improvement have been made, there is still much work to be done. But as long as there are those willing to make it happen, it gives hope and inspiration for others to follow suit.V While it may be easier to forget the civil war that nearly destroyed a nation, doing so would be an incredible injustice to the many innocent victims who gave their lives in an effort to promote peace and change.  It is through books such as these and the testimonials of survivors that their lives are never forgotten.


Latin America

flip wilsonThe generation I grew up in fondly remember Bill Cosby and ‘The Cosby Show’ but before our time, there was another African-American titan, Clerow “Flip” Wilson who once ruled network television.  My parents, aunts and uncles would often reminisce on his show and the characters created by Wilson. Until reading this biography, my knowledge of him was very limited as I only saw clips of him if they happened to be on television.  This book came as a suggestion from a high school friend and author who’s always dead on when it comes to good reads.  Having read Sammy Davis Jr’s ‘Yes I can’ and the stories of Billie Holiday, James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, I was curious to take a look into Wilson’s life and learn about his personal struggle to become one of the biggest African-American stars of his day.  Born during the Jim Crow era, the early part of the book exposes the ugly climate of racial prejudice prevalent throughout the United States.  Some readers may be uncomfortable, but I stress that it’s important to read through this part as these experiences would help shape Wilson into the entertainer and man he would later become.  Making it big in television, his world expands exponentially and we follow Flip as he moves through celebrity circles becoming friends with George Carlin, Richard Pryor and countless others.  But for all of the highs we see in his life, there are also the lows.   We see a gifted entertainer struggle to maintain a flourishing career while at the same time trying to be a father to several children and partner to their mother.  No stranger to drugs, his dependence on some would stay with him throughout his life.  It’s often been said that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity and in Wilson, the truth in that statement comes to light.

As the 1970s drew to a close and the 1980s approached, the television industry began to change.  Bill Cosby’s ‘The Cosby Show’ debuted and became a landmark success followed by dozens of sitcoms.  Wilson’s show, though no  longer on the air, paved the way for many young stars and his success served as an inspiration to thousands of young African-American men and women.  Although he passed away in 1998, his legacy continues to live on and for many Americans, Clerow Wilson will always be known as “Flip”.



Rebecca muserDefiance is one of the most powerful actions that can be taken by a person.  The ability to stand up in the face of adversity tests our courage and in some cases our morale fiber.  Rebecca Musser exemplified both as she faced former tormentor and leader of the Fundamental Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), Warren Jeffs.   Musser is the former wife of Jeffs’ father Rulon and a major defector from the FLDS church.  As she testified, she say stoically in a stunning red dress that surely drew the ire of the once powerful Jeffs.  Today Jeffs continues to serve a life sentence at the Louis C. Powledge Unit in Anderson county, Texas.  The FLDS continues to operate under the watchful eye of State and Federal authorities in Utah and Texas.  Their investigations have shed light on the behind the scenes movements of the secretive and secluded religious faction.  Assisted by defectors from the FLDS, authorities pieced together a disturbing pattern of sexual abuse of both children and adults and forced child labor.  Their efforts culminated in the conviction of Jeffs.

When Rulon Jeffs died, his son Warren seized power and began to enforce an even more draconian system of arranged marriages for himself and others. In the process he married several of his father’s widows.  And some of the brides were as young as fourteen years of age.  As Jeffs made his descent into insanity, his rhetoric became even more radical and his decrees even more bizarre and restrictive.  Without his father there to control his radical beliefs and actions, Jeffs became a dictator drunk on power. His greed and paranoia would lead to his downfall and the exposure of the secretive community.  Musser was a witness to this but the basis of her story is the relationship with his father Rulon as his nineteenth wife.  The true number of wives and children held by Rulon Jeffs will probably never be fully known.  But what is known is that many teenage brides were forced to marry him even though he was long past his eightieth birthday.  To some reading this now, it seems beyond comprehension that a nineteen year old woman was forced to marry a many several decades her senior. This is no practical joke nor is it a fairy tale. It really did happen and this story tells us what it was like on a daily basis. Teaming up with author, speaker and activist M. Bridget Cook, Rebecca takes us back in time to an era where she was a normal child like the others she called her friends. Her nightmare begins as she assigned to marry the elderly leader of the church.  The misogynistic atmosphere and behavior of the senior Jeffs is not only disturbing but in some cases dumbfounding.   Her resistance is formed early in her plight and throughout it all she and Jeffs remained bitter enemies.  Unable to get her to bend to his will, Musser became public enemy number one in the eyes of the next prophet.  Their battle culminated in the courtroom where the woman in red helped seal his fate.

Musser’s sister is Elissa Wall, the author of Stolen Innocence, which tells the story of her marriage to her own cousin and defection from the church. The sisters have become leading voices in exposing the dangers faced by children in the FLDS and their stories are incredible in their own ways.  They both received satisfaction in knowing that Jeffs will never again walk the streets a free man.  And although the FLDS still operates, it is no longer a secret kept in place through intimidation or complicity.  The days of her marriage to Rulon Jeffs and his indiscretions are long gone.  But the memories of that time and the system of dysfunction and exploitation remain as reminders of her former life.  She is now a best selling author and continues to make her voice heard with regards to child exploitation and the practice of underage marriage. If you want to know more about this phenomenal woman and the ordeal she endured on her path to freedom, this is the place to start.