Monday, December 15, 2008
One of my favorite shows is Most Evil on the Investigation Discovery Channel. Forensic psychiatrist Michael Stone from Columbia University researches and rates murderers, serial killers, and sociopaths on a scale of evil.
I have been interested in true crime since I was a child, which I am often teased about because you wouldn't expect me to have such dark interests. For instance, the first grown-up book I read was Wasted: The Preppie Murder when I was 9! I also wrote my Master's thesis on the media representation of serial killer Aileen Wuornos. I rattle off details about killers the way others talk about athletes.
Of course, I am also drawn to the show because Dr. Stone attempts to code and classify disordered, abhorrent human behavior on a hierarchical scale of depravity. On opposite sides of the spectrum are those who kill in self-defense, the least evil, and psychopaths who torture and kill, the most evil. But who is to say that "Criminals who kill in self-defense, but are extremely provocative toward the victim" (Level 4) are less evil than "Traumatized, desperate persons who kill" (Level 5)?
Between crime reenactments, the show depicts Stone using library and archival materials, such as microfiche, card catalogs, and files. In reality, most of the research is probably conducted by Stone and his assistants through digital means. For instance, newspaper articles are more easily retrieved through the Internet, rather than microfiche.
The use of these traditional resources connote Ivy-League academic research more readily than electronic files. It is more dramatic and visually stimulating to show the face of a serial killer via overhead projector than on a computer screen or Stone researching in a noble, wood-paneled library. Perhaps I am the only one to notice because I have always loved the physical space of archives and libraries? I am interested in how we will visually represent research in the future as we become more used to the Internet as a primary research tool.
Explore Dr. Stone's Evil Scale
Friday, December 5, 2008
The "murder farm" of Gordon Stewart Northcott near Wineville in Riverside County. The panorama shows in detail the exact places where dark deeds transpired, according to Deputy District Attorney Earl Redwine and Sanford Clark, Northcott's 15-year-old nephew, whose story brought about Northcott's arrest at age 24 in Canada. Clark accused Northcott of mistreating, murdering and burying boys in quicklime. Two boys were murdered and three buried in the chicken houses in the background. Arrow at right shows a coop where Clark asserted Northcott imprisoned Walter Collins, kidnapped Los Angeles boy, and finally killed him with an axe. Collins was held captive in the coop, slept there on a rude cot, and could only look into the pens at right. Slaying and burial sites of the Winslow brothers are noted.
As regular readers know, I love true crime. Ads for the film The Changeling noted that the movie was based on true events: the 1928-1930 Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, a case so notorious that the town changed its name to Mira Loma in 1930.
"In September 1928, the Los Angeles Police Department, acting on a tip as to the whereabouts of a missing Canadian boy in the area, went to the Northcott Ranch, a small chicken farm located in present day Mira Loma, California. There they discovered the missing boy, Sanford Clark. Under questioning, Clark claimed that he had been kidnapped by his cousin, Gordon Stewart Northcott, the son of the farm's owner. Northcott had apparently kept Clark prisoner on the ranch, physically abusing him and threatening to kill the boy if he fled. Clark claimed that Northcott had abducted and murdered as many as twenty children between the ages of nine and twelve. Clark was able to lead police to the graves of some of the victims. Northcott was arrested near Vernon, British Columbia, after having fled to his native Canada...
...The Los Angeles Police Department was also involved in a scandal as a result of this case. Arthur Hutchens, Jr., a runaway from Illinois but who was originally from Iowa, claimed he was the missing Walter Collins so he could get a free trip to California. The police considered the case closed and tried to convince Walter's mother, Christine Collins, that Hutchens was her son. When she refused to believe it, she was placed in the psychiatric ward of the Los Angeles County General Hospital. Only after Hutchens admitted he was not Christine Collins' son, ten days later, was she released."
The Los Angeles Public Library has a photo collection which includes 121 photos associated with the case. Enter "Northcott" as a keyword.
Read more about the case here
Monday, December 1, 2008
Aquila was a yearbook for Japanese-American high school students interned in a camp during World War II. The University of California has scans of two editions here.
This facinates me for several reasons: the banality of evil, maintaining traditions during unusual (to say the least) circumstances, and, of course, the capability of digital archives to reach users across time and space.