Book review. Visalia Ransacker – Secret Origin of the Golden State Killer, by Kat Winters and Keith Komos. 2018.

visalia

Winters and Komos continue their important work in making the complicated East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer case readable to both the general public as well as more advanced researchers. Now that Joseph DeAngelo has been arrested as a suspect in the EAR/ONS case, more and more people will probably be interested in understanding the case, and Winters’ and Komos’ books provide a fantastic “road map” through the complex terrain.

Some time ago, the duo released the book Case Files of the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer, a masterpiece in true crime writing. This time, they are digging into the weird case of the Visalia Ransacker, a burglar with an M.O. similar to the EAR/ONS/GSK. Whether the VR actually was the EAR has been debated for some time; this book, I believe, makes the case pretty convincingly that the VR and EAR are one and the same.

The book has been laid out similarly to the aforementioned Case Files… The incidents involving the VR proceed from the first to the last. The structure is heaven-sent in a case as all-over-the-place as this one: we finally get a cohesive idea of where the nightmare started and what it entailed. The VR’s actions were easily as creepy as those of the EAR, and this book is not for those with a tendency towards bad dreams and/or anxiety. In fact, even if you’re of a steely mind, you’ll be looking over your shoulder at night for months after reading Visalia Ransacker.

The question many will be asking themselves is “Is this worth buying and reading now that Joseph DeAngelo has been arrested as the EAR?” The answer is yes – indeed, it’s MORE pertinent now that the VR/EAR/ONS/GSK has most likely been captured, because we’re now at the beginning stages of trying to understanding the mind, the human being behind these terrifying crimes, and a book like Visalia Ransacker is worth it’s weight in gold in such a process.

Highly recommended.

Buy it here.

 

Interview with Marit Higraff, co-host of Death in Ice Valley (podcast)

This year’s best mystery/true crime podcast is, without question, Death in Ice Valley. The show is an investigation into the Isdal woman mystery (if you don’t know what it is, read on below). The show is a breath of fresh air in a “podosphere” filled with true crime shows featuring two people chatting and giggling among themselves: Death in Ice Valley features interviews, excursions into the field, and discussions with cops, locals, and other people who were actually involved in the events when they happened.

Death in Ice Valley is a collaboration between the Norwegian broadcasting company NRK and BBC World Service. It is hosted by Marit Higraff and Neil McCarthy.

Here is my interview with Marit Higraff, Norwegian investigative journalist and co-host of the podcast.

Thank you, Marit, for taking the time to talk to Books, Bullets and Bad Omens!


deathinicevalley

Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!

I am an investigative journalist and reporter working for NRK, Norways public broadcaster. I have been working as a tv-reporter in different departments and for different programs in NRK for many years – investigative journalism is my special field. So originally, tv-journalist, lately also online and audio 😉

I am from the northern part of Norway – the land of the midnight sun – but have lived in Oslo since I started studying. Also lived 8 years in Salzburg, Austria.

I have a 15 year-old-daughter, Hannah.

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(Marit Higraff. Photo: Sigrid Winther)

In your own words, what is the “Isdal Woman”? What does that term refer to?

In November 1970 a woman was found dead and severely burned in a desolate valley outside of Bergen, a city on the west coast of Norway.

Objects were laid out around the body, and couple of days later, the police found her two suitcases at Bergen railway station – containing lots of curious clues, like sophisticated clothes, a wig, and glasses without prescription. The most significant thing common for the suitcases and the things found at the scene: there was nothing to identify who the woman was. The labels had been cut off her clothes, and scratched off the items.

The case immediately hit the headlines in Norway. It was a mystery: who was she – and what happened to her? The newspapers called her the Isdal Woman, because of the name of the remote valley where the body was found, called “Isdalen” in Norwegian, or “Ice Valley” in English.

The police investigated intensively for some weeks, and found that the woman had been traveling a lot, and with different fake identities. But then suddenly shut down the investigation – concluding with most likely suicide. A conclusion most doubted – then, and now. Without finding her identity..

Speculation went high that she could have been a spy, as this happened in the middle of the Cold War.

And the speculations have been going on, for almost 50 years. Still today, nobody knows who this woman was, what she was doing in Norway, and how and why she died in that remote valley.

Isdal-Corpse

(police photo of the body of the Isdal woman as it was found that day. Photo: Bergen Police Archives)

When did you first hear of this case? Were you hooked immediately?

I was an early newspaper and magazine reader as a child, and I remember reading about the case. It has been in the media every know and then.

When I was asked to have a look at it a couple of years ago, it immediately triggered my curiosity and investigative tentacles. Then, when reading thousands of files, I saw the potential of the case – riddle upon riddle – and the possibility of starting a whole new investigation, based on modern methods and technology.

Would you say the Isdal woman is the number 1 most well-known unsolved mystery in Norway? Are there other mystery cases that “compete” with the Isdal woman for that title?

Well, there are some other cases – but since we started publishing our investigation 1,5 year ago this case has got very well known in Norway. Also to the younger generations. And I guess it’s the one case with the most spectacular riddles and facts.

Is there a kind of unofficial prevailing consensus in Norway regarding the woman’s identity? In other words, what is the most popular theory as to who she was and why she ended up the way she did?

There have been a lot of theories and speculations about who she was and what she was doing in Norway. During almost 50 years one of the most discussed theories has been that she was some kind of an intelligence agent or spy, because of the use of several fake identities, the content in her suitcases, and her movements.

The reason we’re discussing this case is because you are the co-host of a podcast I consider the best of 2018, Death in Ice Valley, which deals with the Isdal woman. Can you tell us about the podcast? How did it come about, how are you approaching the case, etc.

Thanks a lot for your opinion on “Death in Ice Valley”! I really appreciate that.

Me and my colleagues in the NRK-team started working on this case two years ago, and have been publishing our steps in the investigation as an online-project since autumn 2016. We were surprised to get attention abroad, as we published only in Norwegian. But, we discovered that people were following us internationally, using Google translate.

Some journalists from international media also took contact, and made stories about our investigation and the project. And then, one year ago, we were contacted by the podcast editor of the BBC World Service, Jon Manel. He saw the potential of the case, and wanted to make the investigation into a podcast-series for a world audience, in collaboration with us. In autumn 2017 me and my colleague Neil McCarthy from the BBC started the work with the podcast. Simultaneously we continued our ongoing investigation into the case.

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(Marit and co-host Neil McCarthy interview a police officer at the exact spot where the Isdal woman was found. Photo: Anette Berentsen / NRK)

One reason I love Death in Ice Valley (besides the intriguing case it deals with) is because, rather than just sitting in a studio and chit-chatting about an old case amongst yourselves, you actually talk to people who were involved in the Isdal woman incident: cops, witnesses, et cetera. How did you go about finding these people? Was it hard to convince them to discuss the case with you?

I am glad you say that. Because, to us it was important that we wanted to take the listeners with us out in the field. To experience places, to meet people. We wanted to be as little studio based as possible – the opposite of most podcasts. We wanted to give the audience a great listening experience, in addition to the great story, and the ongoing investigation.

To find still living witnesses, police and so, has been a challenge in this project. It all happened in 1970, so most of the witnesses are dead – senior officers in the police and so. While reading thousands of police files and documents, we thoroughly registered interesting names of different witnesses. And then had to search in the registers, if they live or are dead. Some got married, changed names, were difficult to find.

Some were really hard to find.

We ended up with a list of rather few possible interviewees still alive. I interviewed many of them for the “Norwegian” part of the project, but we expanded for the podcast, and I contacted more of them. These are mostly quite old people, and it was hard to convince them to try to speak English for a world audience. But most of them participated.

Without spoiling anything for listeners, tell us, we’re you able to dig up anything surprising in your investigation for the podcast?

Yes, definitely! We continued our ongoing investigation along the production – and it was a challenge(and long days!) to research and produce at the same time. But we found some interesting new leads along the way.

And, first of all: we knew that we need attention “out there”. This woman was not Norwegian, we know that. So, our hope was and still is, that someone out there might know something. The goal was to reach out to that person or those persons who might recognize something about the story: about an aunt, a neighbor, a woman who disappeared in 1970…

And we have gotten some very interesting leads to follow up on, from listeners.

What are you currently working on? A new podcast series, perhaps..?

Currently I am spending the summer in the Caribbean, resting and learning Spanish😊 It is a good and necessary break, after an extremely intensive year at work.

Then, after summer, there are some very interesting leads to follow up on, as said. The team will go on investigating this case, and if we get any further – which I still strongly believe – we might come back with another podcast series, Death in Ice Valley season 2..😉

Where can people keep up with your work?

Everything published in our project about the Isdal Woman – articles, videos, timeline – can be found at nrk.no/isdal

It’s in Norwegian though.

Some main articles are translated; they can be found here nrk.no/isdal.en

The podcast “Death in Ice Valley” can be found on iTunes and everywhere else you find podcasts.

My investigative work from earlier on can be found by googling me.

Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t ask about?

Yes.

To me, as an idealistic investigative journalist, always driven by the motivation that I want to make life better for people, want to reveal the errors and gaps in the society, and so on.. I had to ask myself many times in this project: “Why? Why am I spending years of my life – and far too many working hours – on this case? It’s a woman found dead. A concluded suicide.”

And every time I come to the same answer: because it’s a life. A human being. A family that didn’t get to know about their loved one.

I want to give her back what she lost: a name. A dignity. And perhaps justice – if someone did that to her.

And, if possible – I want to bring her home, where she belongs.

FInally, my standard questions.

Your top 3 books?

When I have time, I prefer to read crime – I’ll answer with some favorite authors:
Swedish Jan Guillou, and the Norwegian Jo Nesbø. I also love reading John Irving.

And also historical books that give me new knowledge and reveal new truths, like the unknown story of Norwegians fighting “on the wrong side” during WW2, by Eirik Veum.

Your top 3 films?

Films, the same – crime, and also romantic films;

– The Bridges of Madison County
– Titanic
– Braveheart

And some more faves, all of them old…😄

What model phone do you use?

iPhone 7

Interview with the filmmakers behind Dead Man’s Line (2018)

A few weeks ago, I saw an incredible documentary called Dead Man’s Line. The film tells the story of Tony Kiritsis, a man who felt so wronged by a mortgage company that he took his mortgage broker hostage to get the attention of the media to his perceived plight. He tied a shotgun to his hostage’s neck, then tied a line from the trigger to his finger, thus ensuring that, if he was killed, he would take his hostage with him to his grave.

The standoff was intense – and so is Dead Man’s Line.

Below is my interview with the filmmakers behind the film, Alan Berry and Mark Enochs.

Thanks you, gentlemen, for taking the time to talk to Books, Bullets and Bad Omens!

Watch the film on iTunes or Amazon.


deadmansline

Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!

AB: My name is Alan Berry and I’m the director, editor, and producer of Dead Man’s Line. In my day job, I’m a Director of Marketing for a private financial firm in Indiana. I’m an avid fan of the band Phish.

ME: I’m Mark Enochs, co-director and writer of Dead Man’s Line. I live in Indianapolis, Indiana with my wife, daughter, and our two dogs. I also share a woodshed out back with a family of chipmunks and a mama garter snake who eats mice at night. Professionally, I’ve been everything from a proofreader to an editor, and I am currently writing for a marketing platform company. Otherwise, I’m a typical binge-viewing, bird-watching, physical-comedy-loving dude.

2) Have you always been interested in true crime?

AB: I’m a fan of true stories of all kinds, especially if there is a video to back up the story.

ME: Alan and I have been friends since high school, and there have always been documentaries in our viewing queue. Whenever there was a movie that was based on a true story, we always wanted the true story, and back before reality TV, one of the best places to hunt for non-scripted, non-editorialized truth was the documentary section at the video store. There wasn’t as wide a smorgasbord as there is now, of course, so whatever we found we would consume multiple times, stuff like Incident at Oglala, all kinds of concert footage, and Hoop Dreams which I remember watching for the first time with Alan all in one go. It was such a commitment from the filmmaker and the families, and it just showed how to use film to tell anybody’s story.

True crime itself is a natural draw for me. Stories like this have a built-in drama, and I love seeing that unfold regardless of whether the stories end with closure or total mystery. So what separates a factual but flat rendering from a dynamic and intriguing one is the filmmaker, that person’s vision, and the way the narrative is built. The Thin Blue Line was an early example to us of how you can add creative elements and enhance the story without misrepresenting the facts. Coppola’s Hearts of Darkness was another early one where we could see how real life and fiction could get mixed up and merge.

3) How did you become a filmmaker?

AB: Part of the path for me in becoming a filmmaker was out of necessity. Up until 2011, I had owned and operated records stores in Indianapolis. I saw the end nearing, so I jumped ship over to video production. Which for me led to more filmmaking.

ME: In high school, Alan had a video camera, and we made comedies, real Monty Python sketch stuff. We shot a lot of the early bits in chronological order, but as we continued to come up with skits made up of more and more shots, we started editing, super primitive, but cutting together scenes was something we loved doing. It just took a couple decades for the stars to align and go about seriously making a film. In 2010, we shot “Band in a Jam” up in northern Indiana, and we learned so many critical lessons there about story-telling, stuff you’re never done learning, but I remember after half a year of shooting that film we felt like not only could we do this but we might be able to do it well.

4) Your film Dead Man’s Line tells the story of a truly bizarre kidnapping and hostage situation from the 1970s. How did you come across this story? When did you know you were going to make a film about this incident?

AB: It’s Mark’s fault. Six years ago now, we had just completed a day-in-the-life documentary of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, and when it came time to do the next project, we did an informal survey of friends and family, wanting to know what our potential audience was interested in seeing, and then from the short list that came out of that, we rated each idea. Kiritsis rose to the top, in part because it’s an intriguing story that happened here in Indy and that many people younger than us had never heard of. Also some of the other ideas we had for a project fell through quickly. Kiritsis was the only one where we found people who wanted to talk, starting with Jack Parker, a WTTV cameraman who covered the story in ’77, held on to his footage, and was willing to share it.

ME: So some of it is Jack’s fault, and we are so grateful for that. Another reporter, WRTV’s Linda Lupear, also shared footage and her account. When we were trying to come up with the next project, this was the one with this great historical Indy angle that came to mind for me. We were in the 2nd grade when the incident happened, but I recall watching the footage as it was replayed during the summer of 1977 on local TV as the court proceedings got underway. That image of Kiritsis and Hall and that wired gun had stuck with me for 35 years.

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(Tony Kiritsis and his hostage, Richard O. Hall. Photo: John Hilley / Associated Press)

5) Was it difficult to get people to talk about the event?

ME: Yes. Short answer is yes. We both have real jobs, the ones that pay our bills, so scheduling convenient time isn’t always possible, and then of course, some people just aren’t comfortable being on film, or, in a few cases, on the record.

But of the 40+ interviews we did conduct, the vast majority were eager to describe what they’d witnessed. And not for attention-seeking purposes. There was nothing like that. People were just ready to put their recollections on the record once and for all. This was a one-of-a-kind event in these people’s lives, something they could document in one final work and pass on as local history to the next generation.

6) What do you think really drove the kidnapper, a man named Tony Kiritsis, to undertake such desperate measures? Was he a genuine “working man who’d had enough”, or just a narcissist?

ME: Kiritsis sawed off the barrel and stock of a shotgun and then took a man hostage with it. That’s a crime. There’s no way to get around that.

Did the mortgage company steal Kiritsis’ land out from under him? No. There is no evidence that Meridian Mortgage did anything so overtly illegal in their loan agreement with Kiritsis.

Could Meridian Mortgage have manipulated either Kiritsis or prospective buyers so that Meridian Mortgage could foreclose on the property and then resell it at a great profit? Yes, they could have.

There is no direct proof of that, but one thing I’m convinced of is that Dick Hall was only indirectly involved with the Kiritsis loan. He had been in the office when Kiritsis had come in. He knew Tony well enough to talk with him. On one occasion, he sat in on a heated argument between Dick’s father, M.L. Hall and Kiritsis, but that was it. Dick’s main error was showing up at the office that morning, a mistake none of us would ever have seen ahead of time.

Did Tony feel that M.L. Hall had done something to swindle his land away from him? Yes, he truly believed that. But the way he went about addressing the problem was to flip out and fantasize about revenge, and yes, some of that is because as a narcissist, he had a lot of trouble facing his flaws. But that’s not to say Kiritsis was a bad person. There are hundreds of examples of his generosity and good-natured camaraderie. Tony was an open book in many cases. He got things wrong, but he rarely lied. What he couldn’t face was losing that land. There was no Plan B. Everything past 1977 depended on that land and what it represented to Kiritsis. Think about losing your future. You still can’t wire shotguns to people’s necks. That’s not a solution, but I get the motive.

7) Your film tells the story perfectly: matter-of-factly, without too much background, letting the participants and news video archives tell the story in the moment. It reminded me of some of Oliver Stone’s better films. What techniques did you employ in constructing that intensity on the screen?

AB: I wish I could say I use some fancy techniques when I edit, but I don’t. One of my assets is that I have seen thousands of documentaries, good and bad. So when I’m going through cuts, I keep working it until I get that “Oh yeah, that works” feeling. That gut feeling that makes you want to go show it off. The next crucial step was to have Mark watch it to validate that my ego wasn’t just agreeing with itself. Mark has an excellent eye for crap, and our friendship is strong enough where he would tell me when my work was not up to par. Once it passed Mark’s crap test, the process would start over. Long story short, it’s a process of create, review, analyze, improve.

8) Where can people watch Dead Man’s Line?

Amazon and iTunes

9) What are you working on at the moment?

ME: Fiction. Podcasts are an intriguing idea too.

AB: Trying to become a roadie for Phish and other various video projects.

10) Where can people keep up with your work?

https://www.deadmansline.com/

https://www.alancberry.com/

And finally, my standard questions:

11) Your top 3 films?

ME:

Memento

Seven Samurai

Primer

AB:

Salesman

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

The Killing

12) Your top 3 books?

ME:

Watership Down

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Fight Club

AB:

Think and Grow Rich

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Rebel without a Crew

13) Your top 3 songs?

ME:

Could never pick 3 songs. Instead:

Queen. 2)Tool. 3) Iron Maiden.

AB:

1) Phish. 2) Frank Zappa. 3) The Rolling Stones