Month: March 2019

GreenleeMy father recommended this book at the end of a conversation during one of my typical weekend visits.  He commented that he had read the book during his late teen years and always remembered it for standing out as unforgettable.  When I arrived back home, I went online to begin my search and quickly found it on Amazon.   The book is fiction, which I rarely read, but my father generally has great recommendations on all types of media.  And I am happy to report that once again, he did not let me down.   I have already called him twice to discuss this short but powerful book by the late Samuel Eldred Greenlee, Jr. (1930-2014). The title alone is enough to raise eyebrows and at first glance, seems politically incorrect.  But behind the cover page is a story that takes the ingredients of Washington, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Civil Rights Movement and Black militancy and combines them into tale that is sure to be remembered for years to come by all who have opened the pages of this book.

The story begins as Senator Gilbert Hennington is examining his chances for reelection.  When his staff informs him that his polls numbers are down with the Negroes, there is a call to arms about the upcoming Senate race. His staff scrambles for ideas before he settles on the recommendation of his wife Belinda: accuse the CIA of racial discrimination.  At the next committee hearing, the seasoned Senator takes the CIA Director to task on the noticeable lack of Negro special agents, and as a result he cruises to reelection in the fall.  The CIA finds itself in a bind and commences a specialized espionage program aimed at hiring Negro agents to ward off any claims of racial discrimination.  However, the CIA director is convinced that no Negroes will complete the program and soon enough things can get back to normal.  But among the recruits is a standout, Dan Freeman,  the unknown who became the spook who sat by the door.

Freeman finishes with marks higher than expected and is given an office position that entails endless meets and greets.   He is not given the espionage position that recruits with his marks normally would have attained.  But Dan is no ordinary office worker and is determined to change the system.  His sharp intellect, acute observation skills and easy-going nature, allow him to enter circles normally off-limits to Blacks.  Trips abroad, money, apartments and clandestine connections compose to the form the nexus of Freeman’s life.  But there is a void to be filled and he eventually makes the decision to leave the CIA and resume his prior youth outreach activities in Chicago. Once he settles in, he sets his sights on the Cobras street gang but this is not about getting them to leave the life, Freeman has an entirely different mission planned, one that shakes the city to its core.

As the premier recruit in the CIA espionage program, Dan Freeman believed he was opening doors for Black Americans. But his time in the CIA gave him an inside look into the obstacles faced by African-Americans and the hypocrisy that is found all throughout the system.  His eyes are opened and he becomes determined to make a statement. The Cobras proved to be just what he was looking for.   And it is at this point in the book, that he takes the knowledge given to him by the CIA and formulates an uprising determined to uproot everything form of oppression there is.  The second half of the book is bound to leave readers speechless and Greenlee masterfully composed this section, showing the complexity behind the lead character.

Although a work of fiction, there are many truths to be found throughout the novel.  Freeman’s ideas and actions have as their base, the training and ideology from the very system which he now wishes to break apart.   His training as a spook allows him to go undetected as he finds himself on both sides of the battle, weaving between both like the master agent that he should have been given the chance to be. He is a CIA creation, but one that has the intention of armed resistance and violence as a tool of change.   His actions are undoubtedly questionable and to some readers, they will be unjustifiable.  But to others like Dan Freeman, who are disillusioned with the system and the hypocrisy that continues to be used to keep the others in their place, he is a hero to the struggle.  And this divergence of opinions is a reflection of the dark stain of racial discrimination in America’s past.

Greenlee speaks volumes about race in America and the Civil Rights Movement.  Freeman channels all of the frustrations and disappointments that became regular occurrences in the lives of Black men and women.  And in his dilemma of finding a way to give other Black Americans hope, he decides on a course of action that could only end up in one way.   He is the underdog, hero and antagonist rolled into one in this classic that will never get old.

ASIN: B0721HXS4Y

fiction

iceland2In 1974, the feelings of innocence and safety that  were pillars of Icelandic society, eroded when two men disappeared and were later presumed dead.  The crimes brought home the reality to thousands of Icelanders that even their nation could experience what was believed to only happen in other places such as America. On January 27, 1974, Gudmundur Einarsson disappeared after leaving a nightclub in the area known as Hafnarfjordur.  Ten months later, Geirfinnur Einarsson disappeared after receiving a phone call from an unknown caller.  He left home in a hurry and his car was later found abandoned by authorities.  The bodies of both men have never been found.  The cases would have remained cold if not for the arrest of a young couple for embezzlement.  Erla Bolladottir and Saevar Ciesielski’s apprehension by police eventually set into motion a chain of events that resulted in the convictions and imprisonment of six people whose names continue to carry the stigma of Iceland’s worst killers.  Kristjan Vidar Vidarsson, Tryggvi Runar Leifsson, Albert Klahn Skaftason and Gudjon Skarphedinsson joined Erla and Saevar as defendants in the cases that polarized an entire nation.   At first glance, the story seems simple, two kids were caught committing a crime and then confessed to other crimes wherein they implicated previously unknown co-conspirators.  But upon closer inspection, many problems arise with the official story and to this day, there are  many unanswered questions. Anthony Adeane traveled to and from Iceland for several years conducting research for this book and what is contained in its pages has caused me to take an even deeper look at a case that had already caught my attention.

Netflix premiered a documentary of the crimes, also under the title of  Out of Thin Air, in which Erla and Gudjon give interviews. Albert is still alive but has refused interview requests and as Adeane reveals, he was advised not to approach Albert at all for his own safety.  The documentary is incredibly well-done and leaves the viewer with a feeling of confusion about the actions of investigators and the “confessions” of the accused.  And while I enjoyed it immensely, I believe this book presents the story with even more emphasis on the controversial narrative maintained by the Icelandic Government.  Similar to the documentary, Erla plays a central role as Adeane recounts their conversations during his many trips to the small Scandinavian nation in the Atlantic.  The taint of the case is still alive and well causing Erla consternation in public to this day.  But to understand why, it is necessary to understand Iceland and Adeane masterfully includes a simple but effective narrative on the critical points in Iceland’s founding and subsequent development.   The book is not intended to be a compendium of the history of Iceland but a primer to show the reader how and why Iceland became the secluded nation that it did and why two murders which happen in other parts of the world, shook the country to its core.   This primer by Adeane, sets the stage for the future public reaction to the horror two men who disappeared under suspicious circumstances.

Those familiar with Nordic culture will readily agree that Icelandic names can be quite tough for foreigners to pronounce correctly.  At first it may be a bit confusing keeping up with everyone but as the book progresses it actually does become easier to keep track of the main characters.  The author gives the reader a helping hand by explaining Icelandic surnames which I admittedly did not fully understand before reading the book.   The names of the locations are equally as tongue-twisting but as the book progressed I was able to recall their names without much trouble.  Some would say it is not necessary to remember all of the names of places.  I do not believe most readers will but the information is there if needed.  However,  one of the keys to understanding the problems with the official timeline is the name and location of multiple places mentioned in the book. Readers who have visited Iceland or are Icelandic may be familiar with the physical layout making the book even more appealing.  For natives, this book may not be needed as these two crimes are embedded into Icelandic society.

Similar to the documentary and the real story, the other major figure here is Saevar.   He has been viewed as a Charles Manson type character with a powerful influence over others.  But just who was the real Saevar? And was he the evil genius who imprisoned others under his powerful influence as authorities made people believe?  Adeane covers his life and includes information that did not make it into the documentary.  Saevar’s life is a tragic as the story at hand.  The same can also be said for many of the other figures.  I believe if the filmmakers had more time, perhaps they could have included more information about the two mysteries that become even more bizarre each time they are revisited.  As the book progresses, Saevar emerges as the most tragic of the figures who was never able to move forward in life after seventeen years in prison. Sadly he is no longer here and if his name is eventually cleared, he will have no way of knowing or rejoicing in the fact that his life’s mission had been successful.  For Tryggvi,  it is also too late and the six hundred plus days that he spent in solitary remained with him until the day that he died. Gudjon is one of the few still alive but today is a shell of his former self and the image of a man who has carried a heavy burden for many years as a result of a case that destroyed many lives.

Some readers will wonder why did they confess if they had not committed the crime?  It is a crucial question and Adeane explores that topic from an unbiased angle that I believe shows very plausible explanations.  There are those who will come away from the book and believe that yes, there were in fact guilty and confessed as they should have.  But others will become even more convinced that something went terribly wrong in the investigation by police and several young adults were “chosen” to take the fall for a crime that they could not have possibly committed.

More than forty years have passed since the events at hand occurred.  Iceland is a very different country today with a large portion of its economy derived from the tourism that hardly existed at the time Erla and Saevar were hatching many of their get quick rich schemes.  Several of the others had been in trouble with the law before but none had ever committed the crime of murder.  There is a chance that history will absolve them and Anthony Adeane puts their plight is a very critical light ripe for further reexamination.  The courts in Iceland have resisted efforts to reopen the investigations but someday the efforts by many, including the author, may prove to be what is needed to finally clear the names of Erla, Saevar, Tryggvi, Albert, Gudjon and Kristjan.   And maybe someday the truth about the fates of Gudmundur Einarsson  and Geirfinnur Einarsson will finally be known.  This is a direct and fascinating look at the two cases that developed out of thin air.

ASIN: B07J9K7D5N

Investigative Report

Fu ShengLegends never die, that is an absolute fact.  Some legends never live past fifty years of age, often leaving their mortal coil through tragedy or illness.  For Alexander Fu Sheng (1954-1983), a single car accident was the cause of his demise and in the early morning hours of July 7, 1983, he died at the young age of twenty-eight.  He left behind grieving parents, siblings and his widow Jenny Tseng, an accomplished Hong Kong singer who has also performed abroad. At the time of his death, he had risen to become one of the most popular stars to come out of the legendary Shaw Brothers Studio.  Before ceasing film production in late 1985, Shaw Brothers had released several hundred films which had been locked away until Celestial Pictures bought the rights to the films and digitally remastered the majority of the collection. As a long-term fan of the martial-arts film genre, I had amassed a large collection of films which included all of Fu Sheng’s movies.  My favorite is the film that catapulted him to international stardom, The Chinatown Kid (1977). Terrence J. Brady gave this biography the perfect finishing touch by included the name of that film in the title of this book. His exhaustive efforts have resulted in the only known biography of the late film star.

If you have no idea who Fu Sheng was, I do recommend that you watch some of his films, a full list of which can be found here.  It should be noted that the list does not contain The Mark of the Eagle which was being filmed at the time of his death.  The project was shelved permanently.  Readers familiar with Black Belt Theater will feel a sense of nostalgia as memories of Saturday afternoons filled with Shaw classics then distributed by the World Northal Corporation.  It truly is an era that we will never again see.  Today, CGI and fancy camerawork has replaced the old-school method of filming that relied heavily on coordination, training and relentless stamina.  Many Shaw Brothers stars are still alive, well into their 60s, 70s and even 80s.  The Shaw studio is long gone, but the magic they created will last a lifetime.  Fu Sheng was part of that magic and Terrence J. Brady has finally put together the true story of his short and extraordinary life.

The book is without question a biography, but the author did a great job of providing a tremendous amount of back-story for the topics at hand. In fact, throughout the book, snippets of Chinese military and literary history are included showing the link between China’s past and what the filmmakers had intended to capture on-screen.  Undoubtedly, Fu Sheng is the star of this story and Brady carefully retraces his steps from film extra to superstar.  And along the way, he was surrounded by cinema greats who became mentors, friends and mourners.  Their stories and their relationships with Fu Sheng  show the very personal side to the individuals who helped create the films that I and scores of others have come to cherish dearly.

His widow Jenny is also a central part of the story and I firmly believe Brady lays to rest any rumors that have persisted about their lives together up until the time of Fu Sheng’s death.  And following his demise, Jenny has a surprise of her own which I had never known of.  Her revelation, whether it is true or not, adds to the tragedy of his life.  But what is evidently clear, is the love they had for each other, which the late Chang Cheh (1923-2002) showcased in his most eccentric film Heaven & Hell (1980).  The film has been written off as Cheh’s most bizarre work but personally, I found it to be highly entertaining.  In the film, the couple performs a duet that complements the prior act perfectly.  But there was more to their singing partnership than many might have known or remember. Brady covers that as well here and his research provides a steady stream of incredible information about the couple during their several year courtship and subsequent marriage.  Of note, Tseng never remarried after Fu Sheng’s death.

Fans of the Shaw Brothers will absolutely love this book.  It is an insider’s look into how the studio created its hit films and a good reference guide for a quick background information on some of the biggest names to work there.  In this story, nearly all of the legends make an appearance including Ti Lung, David Chiang and the late Lau Kar Leung (1934-2013). A who’s who of stars is put on display and as I read the book, I could feel the Shaw Brothers studio come back to life again during what could only be described as a classic era in the Hong Kong film industry. In fact, this book has encouraged me to revisit the Shaw classics, some of which I haven’t watched in nearly two years  I still have my entire collection which started in 1995 when my father took me up to 42nd Street.  There, I purchased my own VHS English dubbed copy of the Five Masters of Death. The original Hong Kong title is The Five Shaolin Masters.  Fu Sheng had a starring role in the film and it was in this movie that I first became a fan.  It is just one of many great masterpieces he contributed to during his storied career.

This book truly is a blessing and I am forever grateful for Brady’s monumental effort. Fu Sheng is long gone, having died nearly thirty-six years ago, but his memory and legacy live on not only in Hong Kong but across the world.  During his time at the Shaw Brothers studio, he rightfully earned the nickname of the Chinatown Kid.

ISBN-10: 1717363679
ISBN-13: 978-1717363671

Biographies

Casey - Deliver uSIn spite of their infamous reputations, there is something about serial killers that compels society to revisit their crimes and re-live what could best be described as nightmares by the families of victims, survivors of the crimes and law enforcement who worked countless hours in their attempts to bring the killers to justice. Netflix recently premiered Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, allowing viewers to hear Bundy in his own words as we continue to seek explanations for the actions of one of America’s most prolific serial killers.  He is far from the only one and is joined in infamy both dozens of other killers whose actions revealed the extremely dark side of human nature.  In the State of Texas, between Galveston and Houston, lies Interstate Highway 45 (I-45).  Between the years 1971 and 1996, the bodies of 30 women were recovered in what became known as the Texas Killing Fields.  Some of the murders were solved but the majority have remained unsolved and currently classified as cold cases.  The barbarity of the crimes coupled with the mysterious circumstances surrounding the disappearances of the victims, have cast an ever darker cloud on some of Texas’ worst murders. Author Katheryn Casey has revisited the killing fields and this is her account of what she learned as she stepped back into time and explored the serious of murdered that rocked Texas and caused many to wonder if any young woman was safe.

On Thursday, June 17, 1971, Colette Anise Wilson was a typical thirteen year-old girl in Alvin, Texas, but she could not have known that it would be her last day alive.  Her remains were found several months later in November of that year. Her disappearance and murder became a de facto script that would be played out over and over again as more young women met a similar fate, leaving families looking for answers that made sense and detectives under enormous pressure to solve crimes that had never before affected the towns along I-45.  The grief that engulfed the families is captured movingly by Casey and reveals the innocence of the young women, robbed of a full life through a chance encounter that had deadly consequences.  A common theme that I saw in the book and one that was to be expected, is that none of the families were ever the same again.  Each surviving family member handled the grief in their own way with some becoming committed activists in helping other parents of murdered children and others sinking further into misery.  In this book, Casey keeps their daughters’ legacies alive and gives the families a voice that needs to heard and remembered.

Readers who are sensitive to this type subject matter should beware that the descriptions of the crimes are graphic. Forensics is crucial to the murders and through Casey,  we revisit the crime scenes in order to understand what detectives faced as they came to understand that a deadly epidemic had commenced on the I-45.   At certain points in the book, I felt a slight chill come over me as I read the stories of the murders.  And what was more chilling, is the anonymity of the killer(s).  Authorities have long believed that many of the murders were the work of one person, a serial killer that had picked Texas as his killing field. In truth, we do not know for sure how many killers did in fact roam the I-45.  It is quite possible that several claimed the lives of multiple women over the course of more than twenty-five years. Casey does not attempt to answer that question but the narrative does leave the question open.

Towards the end of the book, there was one section that stood out in particular in which Casey recalls a conversation with retired FBI profiler Mark Young.  During their discussion about the I-45 murders, he remarked “at any one time, there are about six hundred serial killers in the U.S.. Of those, maybe half are active. The others have aged and stopped killing, or they’ve stopped for other reasons, like sickness, or they’re in prison for other crimes.” Considering the population of the United States is well above 300 million people, that does not add up to significant portion of the population. But I believe that even one serial killer is far too many.  But as Casey explores in the book, how do we know who is a serial killer?  By her own admission, she might have let Kevin Edison Smith come into her home if he had presented himself in a non-threatening manner.  His conviction for the murder of Krystal Jean Baker highlights the fact that we do not know who among us has the capability to be a stone cold killer.  Further, there is a chance that at least once in our lives, we have crossed paths with someone who has killed or has the ability to commit premeditated murder.

There is always the possibility that one or more of the I-45 cold cases will one day be solved.  However, the passage of time and the loss of critical evidence may prove to be too much for even the most seasoned investigators.   But for anyone who is making an effort to understand what did happen during that twenty-five year stretch when the Texas Killing Fields ran red with blood, a blueprint is needed to provide a map of where and when to look.  Kathryn Casey has done that and more in this eye-opening and hair-raising account of serial murder in the Lone Star State.

ASIN: B00I7V3UG0

Crime Investigative Report