Monday, November 19, 2012

Literary Monday - Vietnam as you've never seen it

I was a child when the Vietnam war (the one the USA was involved in - there were a lot of conflicts that involved Vietnam, or Indochina as it used to be called) was going on.  The news was boring and it seemed like the same thing every night, so I didn't pay much attention.  The first novel about or set in Vietnam that I remember reading was Up Country by Nelson Demille, published in 2002.  I originally picked it up because it continued the story of Paul Brenner, one of Demille's characters who appeared in The General's Daughter.  It's a fairly fat book, but once I started reading, I couldn't put it down.  Up Country is based loosely on Demille's own experiences as a soldier in Vietnam and I recommend it highly.

I just finished another outstanding book set in Vietnam:

The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam - this is Vincent Lam's first novel, although he has previously published a collection of short stories.  Percival Chen's father went to Vietnam (Indochina) to work when Percival was a child, and never really returned to China except for a few brief visits, although he did support Percival and his mother.  When the Japanese invade China during World War II, Percival is able to obtain a visa for Vietnam because his father lives there, and he and his new wife travel to Vietnam for what they believe will be a short stay, until the war ends.  But it is easy to make money in Vietnam and they end up staying permanently, with Percival first working in the rice trade, and later, opening a very successful English language school.  Percival is not always a likeable character - the word "hubris" describes his actions throughout much of the book.  He is self-centered, he likes to flash money around and has quite a few vices, he does not pay attention to managing his school, he ignores what is going on around him in the belief that nothing will change.  I repeatedly found myself wanting to slap some sense into him.

A number of themes run through the book in addition to Vietnamese and Chinese history:  fathers and sons, love and loss, friendship and betrayal, awareness and naivete, changing realities and disbelief.  Very well-drawn characters, excellent pacing, and a plot that keeps building all contribute to the book's excellence.  Vincent Lam based the story on his grandfather's experiences as a Chinese national living in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s.  I look forward to reading more from him.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Missing Tuesday - George Smith IV

(I have been trying to post this since last Tuesday and keep getting interrupted.)

I love going on cruises – it’s my favorite way to vacation. But since 1995, at least 165 people (both passengers and crew) have gone missing from cruise ships. Are they victims of a shipboard crime wave or an unfortunate accident? Did they disappear voluntarily or plan to take their own lives? Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, there is no answer. Disappearances almost always occur in the middle of the night, when the ship is far out to sea.

The disappearance of George Smith IV from the cruise ship Brilliance of the Seas in 2005 is one of the most-publicized continuing mysteries of the cruise industry. Although George’s family has accepted the fact that he is no longer alive, they are still waiting for answers about how he died.

George Allen Smith IV was born in Greenwich, CT, on October 3, 1978, and grew up in the suburb of Glenville. He grew to be 6’2” and played high school football. With his father, he managed the Cos Cob Liquor Store in Glenville. George’s family describes him as very devoted to his family; college classmates say he was a quiet student and a friendly guy, well-liked by everyone.

George, age 26, and Jennifer Hagel, age 25, of Cromwell, CT, met in Newport, RI, in 2002, and were married there in a clifftop ceremony on June 25, 2005. Jennifer was an elementary school teacher, beautiful and outgoing, with a great personality. Four days after their wedding, the couple set sail on a 12 night honeymoon cruise of the Mediterranean on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas, sailing from Barcelona, Spain, a trip that they had planned together. The Brilliance of the Seas is a very large ship, carrying almost 2300 passengers. They had a balcony stateroom on the 9th deck of the ship. The personable young couple soon made new friends on board the ship.

Halfway through their honeymoon cruise, they spent the day ashore in Mykonos on July 4, then returned to the ship and changed for dinner. They had a romantic dinner in one of the shipboard restaurants, and then went to the casino to meet up with another couple also on their honeymoon. They also connected with several young men that they had met on the cruise.  There was a rumor on the ship that George was carrying large sums of money, and a report that both had talked about how people were stuffing cash into their pockets at their wedding, and that they had brought all the money with them on the cruise. When the casino closed at 2:30 a.m., they moved on with their friends to the disco. They were all drinking heavily, and Jennifer began flirting openly with other men, including one of the casino staff. At some point, someone brought out a bottle of absinthe (not sold on the ship). Jennifer and George got into an argument, and at least three witnesses said that both George and Jennifer were very drunk, and that Jennifer kicked her husband in the groin before walking out of the disco at 3:15 a.m. Later, Jennifer said that George was mixing alcohol with two prescription medications, Zoloft and Clonazepam.

The ship docked in Kusadasi, Turkey, at 6:14 a.m., and passengers were cleared to go ashore at 6:39 a.m.  When Jennifer awoke on the morning of July 5, she was not immediately concerned that George was not in their stateroom. She believed he had continued partying after she went to bed and had simply fallen asleep in their new friends’ room, as had happened on at least one other evening on the cruise. She and George had appointments at the ship’s spa for massages; she went to the spa to keep her appointment and thought that George would join her there when he woke up.

Around 8:30 a.m., over two hours after the ship had docked, several passengers on their balconies noticed a large bloodstain on one of the lifeboat canopies. At least one passenger photographed the bloodstain. Blood was also found on the Smiths’ balcony railing, in their cabin, and on the side of the ship. A search of the ship initially showed three missing passengers: George and Jennifer Smith, and one other passenger. Jennifer was located in the ship’s spa shortly before 10 a.m., and the third passenger was also found. Three officers came to the spa to talk to Jennifer and tell her that George was missing. When questioned, Jennifer said she did not remember anything after leaving the casino until she woke up in their room that morning. While it has been suggested that Jennifer was drugged for her to go into such a deep state of unconsciousness that she remembered nothing afterwards, it is also possible that she was just extremely drunk.

Thanks to the access cards, security cameras, and passenger accounts used on the ship, George and his friends left an electronic trail of their movements. After the disco closed at 3:30 a.m., George and his friends went back to the Smiths’ room since George was too drunk to walk on his own. When George realized that Jennifer was not with them and not in the stateroom, he asked the other men to help him locate her, but they were unable to find her. They all returned to George’s room at 4:02 a.m., where the partying apparently continued. Sometime between 4:00 and 4:30 a.m., George’s companions returned to their own room and ordered room service, even taking pictures of the food because they were amazed at the quanitity.

The passengers in the neighboring staterooms, Cletus Hyman, a law enforcement officer from Redlands, CA, and Pat and Greg Lawyer, said they heard what sounded like a loud party and a drinking contest in the Smiths’ stateroom that night around 4 a.m. Mr. Hyman called the Guest Relations desk at 4:05 a.m. to complain about the noise. He thought he heard at least one voice out in the corridor, and then what he describes as an argument on the balcony that lasted about a minute, involving three voices. At around 4:15 a.m., he heard voices saying “good night” softly and when he looked out his door, he saw three men walking away. Pat and Greg Lawyer who were staying on the other side of the Smiths’ room also called Guest Relations to complain about the noise. They said they heard three male voices talking quietly outside their room, although they did not look to see who it was. They believe two of the men spoke with accents.

By now, it was approximately 4:15 a.m. Based on witness testimony, either three or four men had left the Smiths’ stateroom. The Smiths’ neighbors heard someone talking in a conversational tone in the Smiths’ room, and sounds like furniture was pushed around and cabinets being opened and closed, as though the room was either being put back in order or searching for something. Mr. Hyman said there was only one voice speaking, and after about ten minutes, the voice moved to the balcony, where he heard one of the metal balcony chairs being moved. It was quiet for a minute or so, and then he heard what he described as “a horrific thud” coming from the Smiths’ balcony, strong enough that he felt the vibration in his room. He said his first thought was that someone had fallen on the balcony. He did not hear anyone leave through the Smiths’ door, which he normally did.

When security personnel finally responded to Mr. Hyman’s call about the loud noise in the neighboring room, it was 4:30 a.m. and everything was quiet.  Mr. Lawyer suggested they might want to enter the room because it sounded as though the room was being trashed, but the security staff opted not to do that when there was no response to their knocking. 

Shortly after 4:30 a.m., Jennifer was discovered passed out in a corridor on Deck Nine, but on the other side of the ship from her own stateroom. She had made it to the right deck, but was too disoriented to find the correct room.  If she had made it back to her own room after leaving the disco, the night would most likely have ended differently: George’s friends would not have entered the room, or she could have prevented him being pushed or falling overboard, or she too might have ended up in the ocean. Jennifer was able to tell the staff who she was and her stateroom number.  Crewmembers stayed with Jennifer while two other staff went to her cabin to try to locate her husband.  Unaware of the first visit by security staff just a few minutes earlier, they entered the room around 4:45 a.m. looking for George and found the room empty. Two security officer and a female crewmember took Jennifer by wheelchair back to the Smiths’ cabin, entering the room at 4:57 a.m., and helped her to bed.  As they were leaving, Mr. Hyman stuck his head out the door and mentioned that he had heard a commotion in the room about an hour earlier. The security personnel assured him that they had seen nothing amiss in the room and then left.

George was reported missing to the Turkish police, and Jennifer and Josh Askin, one of the men who had been partying with the Smiths, were taken ashore to be questioned by police. Askin had heard the page aboard the ship asking George and Jennifer to check in with them, and volunteered the information that he had been with George in the early hours of the morning.  At 6 p.m., Captain Lachtaridis had the crew wash the bloodstain away the bloodstain on the lifeboat and prepared to depart for the ship’s next port of call. When Brilliance of the Seas returned to the Bahamas where it is chartered after the cruise, the captain filed a report calling George’s disappearance a “probable accident.” The Turkish police and Royal Caribbean turned over their findings to the FBI, including over 100 security tapes from various points on the ship.

In addition to his wife, George was seen with four men in the early morning hours of July 5, 2005, before he vanished: Josh Askin of California; and three Russian-Americans, brothers Greg and Zachary Rozenberg and their cousin Rostislav “Rusty” Kofman of Brooklyn. All four men were in their late teens or early twenties. The Turkish police interviewed Askin, but none of the others. When contacted by the FBI, they insisted that they had all left George’s room by 4:15 a.m. and returned to Kofman’s room to order room service. Askin said he returned to his own room around 5:15 a.m.  All insist George was alive and well when they left him in his own room. Askin met the Rozenbergs and Kofman on the ship; there is no reason to think that he would be covering for them, or they for him.

The young Russian men had already been warned by ship personnel regarding their behavior. During the 48 hours after George vanished, there were several more incidents involving the Rozenberg brothers and Kofman. The Rozenberg family, Kofman, and the Askin family (13 people in all) were removed from the ship in Italy after an alleged sexual assault on a female passenger that at least two of the young men participated in and videotaped. That case is still being investigated by the FBI.

Royal Caribbean officials are blamed for failing to lockdown the ship when it reached the port of Kusadasi, allowing passengers and crew to leave the ship. But at that time, they were unaware that anyone was missing. The Turkish police investigated the crime scene for about two hours, but were rushed off the boat in the afternoon, so that the cruise ship could continue on to its next scheduled port of call. Jennifer at first criticized the cruise line for abandoning her in Turkey to fend for herself, but Royal Caribbean officials say that is not true, that a crew member stayed with her from the moment she learned that George was missing until she left Turkey to return home. The Smiths’ stateroom was sealed to preserve a potential crime scene, and ship personnel provided clothing for Jennifer from the shops on board the ship.

In January 2006, Royal Caribbean allowed forensic specialist Dr. Henry Lee aboard to collect forensic evidence from the Smiths’ room.  He collected samples, photographed the scene and took measurements.  He wanted to perform an experiment throwing a mannequin off the balcony, but Royal Caribbean denied him permission to do this.

In May 2012, a new piece of possible evidence was made public. A video taken in the dining room onboard the Brilliance of the Seas shows the four men who had been with George prior to his disappearance, sitting around and talking about his death and apparently mocking him, while the search for George was still going on around them. The four men took the video themselves, apparently passing around a flip phone.  The FBI has had the video in their possession since 2005. Were the men admittiing that they had killed George, or was it just a bunch of young callous guys sitting around, trying to impress each other?

Cruising is still one of the safest forms of vacation, particularly for women, singles, and seniors. Millions of people vacation on cruise ships every year. The crime rate is minute compared with the rate of crime on land. It is a fact that people do dumb things when they are on vacation, things they would never do when they are at home (if you don’t believe me, watch a few episodes of “Vegas Strip” on TruTV). If you get drunk or high enough, it might seem like a good idea to stand on the rail of your balcony, or jump off and take a swim in the ocean.

In the years since George Smith vanished, cruise lines have changed their policies and practices regarding missing passengers. Now when a passenger is missing, no one is allowed to leave the vessel until a thorough search has been performed.

In 2010, Congress passed the Cruise Security and Safety Act, which stipulates more onboard security personnel, crime response training for security officers, and improved communications between cruise lines and the FBI and Coast Guard. In addition, the International Cruise Victims Association founded by Kendall Carver, father of Merrian Carver who vanished on an Alaskan cruise in 2004, is advocating background checks for all crewmembers, higher railings, more and better security cameras, security bracelets for all passengers and crew, complete documentation of all persons boarding or leaving the ship, and access to records and security videos for investigators.

Jennifer received a $1.1 million settlement from Royal Caribbean in 2006. George’s family challenged the settlement and Jennifer's position as executor of her husband's estate, but a probate court approved the settlement and the ruling was upheld in Superior Court in 2008. A portion of the money went to create a charitable fund in George's name.  Included in the settlement was an agreement from Royal Caribbean to turn over the evidence they collected at the time of George's disappearance from their own internal investigation.  In 2009, Jennifer remarried, to financial analyst Jeff Agne, and they have a child.  While the mystery of George's disappearance will undoubtedly stay with her forever, she is a young woman and deserves to have a life.

What really happened to George Smith IV? A number of possibilities exist:

- George was earmarked for murder because it was believed he had a lot of money in his room. Was his death the result of a robbery gone bad?

- A bunch of drunk guys got into an argument that ended horribly, and then panicked and threw George’s body overboard.

- Young drunk guys can do stupid things, like dare each other to stand on the balcony railing of a cruise ship traveling through rolling seas.

- Like a lot of men, George enjoyed a good cigar. Passengers mentioned smelling cigar smoke from the Smiths’ balcony earlier in the cruise. Possibly the opening and closing of doors that Mr. Hyman heard was George looking for a cigar, and then going out on the balcony to smoke. If he decide to get up on a chair so that he could sit on the railing to look out while he smoked, it is entirely possible that he lost his balance and fell overboard because he was extremely drunk.

On an interesting side note, a lengthy article about George’s disappearance was deleted from Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia.  Since Wikipedia has stories about Natalee Holloway, the Springfield Three, and Etan Patz, I am at a loss to explain why this particular article was deleted.

If you have any information about the disappearance of George Smith IV, please contact the FBI.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Literary Monday - Something evil this way comes...

We are working on a huge weeding project at the library (new boss, new focus, new projects, etc.), and I've been coming home from work pretty tired every night.  So I didn't do much blogging last week, hope to do better this week.

I have one title to review this week:

The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill - This is the first title in Susan Hill's Simon Serrailer mystery series.  Prior to this book, Susan Hill was best known for The Woman in Black (recently made into a movie) and Mrs. deWinter, a sequel to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.  The mystery series was recommended to me by one of our patrons who is an avid mystery reader.  There is a serial killer at work in the small English town of Lafferton, a very clever serial killer whose victims appear to have nothing in common, which baffles the Lafferton police force.  There are a lot of characters and the narrative skips around among their various stories, which is one of the few negative comments I can make about the book.  Good psychologial suspense reminiscent of P. D. James and Ruth Rendell.  If you like either of these writers, you will enjoy this series.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Literary Monday - Vanished Worlds

I have two titles worthy of note this week.  I didn't totally love either one, although a lot of people did on

Arcadia by Lauren Groff - I heard about Arcadia because it kept appearing on "best books" type of lists.  A group of idealists and dreamers abandon their former lives and drop out of society to follow a Utopian dream of building a communal society, living off the land and off the grid.  The story is told from the viewpoint of Bit, the first child born into their communal society in 1968.  The first half of the book details their lives as they found a commune called Arcadia, through its high point and gradual decline.  Bit watches his parents labor for the commune, doing backbreaking work, suffering poverty and hunger in the name of the greater good, until things fall apart.  The second half of the book turns futuristic as Bit and the other commune residents return to the outside world, with most of this section set in 2018.  The world has become a scary and dangerous place, with a pandemic looming.  Bit longs for the Arcadia of his childhood, and when his mother becomes ill, he returns to Arcadia to care for her.  But the community is long abandoned and Bit realizes that the sense of community that he craves has migrated to urban areas, since you can't have a community without people.  I have to say that I liked the second half of the book more than the first half.  Maybe it's because Bit as a child is definitely a watcher, while in the second half of the book, he is forced to be more involved in life.  There are parallels to Animal Farm in the first half of the book, when one of the newer residents asks why some people lived in the splendid mansion on the grounds and did very little work, while others lived in hovels and were expected to labor from dawn to dusk.  I was dissatified with some of the unexplored or unexplained relationships - why bother introducing them if they're just going to be left hanging?  Recurring themes include hope, dreams, and love, found and lost and found again.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt - I waited a long time to get this book from the library, and there was a lot of hype about it, so I really wanted to love it.  The narrator, June, is 14 years old.  Her favorite uncle, Finn, who is a famous painter, is dying of AIDS.  June believes she is a misfit and that Finn is the only person who understands her.  When he dies, June learns that Finn had another "special friend," Toby, his long-time partner who knew all along about June and relates to her sense of loss.  June feels betrayed because she thought that Finn belonged only to her.  Like many children, June thought Finn's life revolved around her, and although she resents Toby, she wants to spend time with him to learn more about their life together.  Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a coming of age story, and June does a lot of growing up during the course of the book.  The author does a great job of capturing the paranoia of the early 1980's, in the days before AZT and other drugs when AIDS was still a death sentence and many people had no idea if AIDS could be transmitted through casual contact like a handshake.  The parents are silent and secretive at a time when they should be helping their children to deal with their grief.  In a lot of ways, June is a cool kid with a vivid imagination:  she is interested in art and music, she likes to pretend she's from the Middle Ages, she wants to be a falconer.  Greta, June's older sister, is the pretty, smart, popular, talented one, but she is incredibly jealous of June's relationship with Finn.  The relationship between the two sisters is unneccessarily dramatic and overwrought.  Greta is obviously meant to be the villain of the piece, the person you're supposed to hate - I just found her annoying.  Only later in the book do you realize that Greta feels just as much a misfit as June does, but in different ways.  I liked some parts of the book but others just dragged or seemed like filler.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Wheat Belly Wednesday - Slow Cooker Chicken Stock

My biggest news this week is that I just adopted a new dog.  My new boy's name is Zeke and he came from Best Friends Animal Society in Utah.  He is a hound mix, not a golden retriever like Luke is.  When I volunteered at Best Friends earlier in the month, Zeke was one of our sleepover dogs.  He is 12 years old, a senior boy, and the sweetest friendliest old guy.  His former owners had left him at Animal Control in Los Angeles (which is fortunately a no-kill shelter).  Zeke had a number of health issues, including being quite overweight, needing to visit the doggie dentist, and having arthritis in his hips and knees, and Best Friends made sure he got the care he needed.  After I came home from Utah, I kept thinking (and worrying about Zeke), so I contacted Best Friends about him, and the short version of the story is that he traveled via United Airlines to Chicago last Friday.  He has been with us for a week and is settling in.  He is still learning the household routine and establishing boundaries with Luke and Teddy (like letting them know when they are getting too close when Zeke is eating). 

I often need chicken stock or broth for recipes and was quite surprised to learn that not all commercially available stocks and broths are gluten free.  You need to read the label, and unless it specifically states that the stock or broth is gluten-free, assume that it has gluten in it or was made in a factory that also processes wheat.  Even some of the organic brands contain gluten.  Aldi, Trader Joe and Costco's Kirkland brand of stock or broth all state on the label that they are gluten-free.

Of course, the best chicken stock is the homemade kind.  Not only do you know for sure that it's gluten free, it's delicious!  You can also control the amount of salt in the recipe.  The recipe for slow cooker chicken stock is based on my grandmother's chicken stock recipe, except she used to simmer the stock on the stovetop.  When she would roast a chicken on Sundays, she would pick as much meat as she could off the bones and save the carcass, the neck, the back, and the drippings from the roasting pan for chicken stock.  She would scrape everything into a big kettle, add vegetables and water, bring it to a boil, then lower the heat and let it all simmer for hours.  Making the stock in the slow cooker means I can turn the slow cooker on when I leave for work and come home to at least a half gallon of hot chicken stock and a house that smells like heaven.  Since you're working from cooked bones, there is no foam to have to skim off the top like there is when you make broth from raw chicken.  This method works well with turkey bones, too, so don't throw out that Thanksgiving turkey carcass (note that turkey stock is usually fattier than chicken stock).  The dogs absolutely LOVE a ladle of warm stock over their kibble.  Enjoy as is with vegetables and/or cooked rice, or in recipes.

Slow Cooker Chicken Stock:

1 chicken carcass or the bones from 4 chicken breasts or leg quarters, with cooked skin and roasting pan drippings
1 large onion, peeled and cut into eighths
2 carrots, washed or peeled and cut into four pieces
2 celery ribs, washed and cut into four pieces
1 t. salt
5 peppercorns
1 T. dried parsley

Place all ingredients except water into the crock of your slow cooker.  Add enough water to cover everything and stir to mix ingredients.  Water should be about 1/2 inch from the top of the crock.  Cover, plug in, and turn on low setting.  Allow to cook for 8-10 hours - don't lift the lid while the stock is cooking, as this will just add to the cooking time.  You can let the stock cook for up to 14 hours, since the slow cooker heat is so low and even.

When the stock is finished, allow it to cool slightly.  If you have the lift-out kind of crock on your slow cooker, remove the crock and place it on a cooling rack for about an hour.  Strain the stock into a large storage container or a 3-quart stockpot.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  In the morning, remove and discard any fat that has hardened on top.  If the stock has jelled, it will liquify as soon as you heat it.  Makes 2-3 quarts of chicken stock.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Missing Tuesday - Jeffrey Lynn Smith

Minorities who go missing frequently receive less police and media attention than Causcasians do.  This was was true 25 years ago when Jeffrey Lynn Smith disappeared while she was on her way home from school, and it is unfortunately still true today.

Jeffrey Lynn Smith vanished on December 4, 1985, from Hot Springs, AK, as she walked home from school. She was last seen a few blocks from where she lived, walking with her boyfriend. She never arrived home and has not been heard from since.

Jeffrey Lynn was born on October 12, 1969. Jeffrey is an unusual first name for a girl, and she went by her middle name Lynn. Lynn’s mother named her for President Bill Clinton’s stepfather, Jeffrey Dwire; she had worked for Clinton’s mother as a maid and babysitter while she was pregnant with Lynn. Clinton’s mother, Virginia Dwire, was a nurse anesthetist and helped during Lynn’s birth. Lynn’s mother remembers preparing a meal in the kitchen of the Dwire home while she was pregnant, and young Bill Clinton (at that time a Rhodes scholar studying in England) coming in and chatting with her.

Lynn’s older sister Lisa Murray remembers her pretty younger sister’s bright smile, her sweetness. She recalls that Lynn was very low-key and vulnerable, not the kind of girl to stand up for herself. Classmates remember her as a quiet girl that everyone liked. Just two months before Lynn disappeared, her family celebrated her 16th birthday with a party.

On December 4, 1985, Lynn attended school as usual.  Friends remembered seeing her walking home from school with her boyfriend.  According to Lynn's sister, the boyfriend was abusive and Lynn wanted to end the relationship.  Somewhere between the high school and her home, Lynn vanished without a trace.

While other people were shopping for Christmas and attending parties, Lynn’s family was frantically searching for her, going from house to house, posting flyers, trying to find any shred of information about Lynn, filing a missing person's report with the police, and praying that she would come home to them.  Lynn was close to her family and they knew she would never have gone away or left the area without telling them.

At first, the police believed that Lynn had run away from home although she had no prior history of running away, and they were slow to investigate her disappearance, even though she was a minor. The family felt that because Lynn was African American, the police paid less attention to her case than they would have had Lynn been Caucasian. The Hot Springs police actually harassed the family, at one point contacting Lynn’s mother and stepfather to tell them that they had news about Lynn, but when her parents arrived at the police station, they arrested Lynn’s stepfather for an outstanding traffic warrant. As time passed and there was no word from Lynn, police came to suspect that Lynn had been abducted and that foul play was involved in her disappearance.

Lynn always wore a gold ring with an opal stone, her birthstone, that she had received as a birthday present from her mother for her 16th birthday. Her sister said she cherished the ring and never took it off. Smith’s boyfriend pawned the ring shortly after her disappearance. The ring showing up in a pawnshop was the only real clue that police had to Lynn's disappearance.  The boyfriend was later imprisoned for assaulting another girlfriend.

Lynn's sister Lisa, her mother, and her brother moved to Pennsylvania several years after Lynn vanished.  In 2005, Lisa Murray and her mother returned to Arkansas in an attempt to get Lynn's case reactivated. Lisa had learned that Lynn’s former boyfriend had assaulted at least two other women, shooting one in the face and serving jail time for the assault. Lisa tracked down the two women and interviewed them by telephone. Both women told of being abused at the hands of Lynn’s former boyfriend. Lisa transcribed the interviews and turned them over to the police.

When they had the opportunity to examine Lynn’s case file in 2007, her family learned that Lynn’s boyfriend, the last person she was seen with, was never questioned in depth by the police. Police officers had gone to his house, stood at the door and asked him a few questions, and then left. Lynn’s parents know this is true because they were present at the time, waiting outside. The boyfriend was never re-interviewed.  In 2010, on the 25th anniversary of her disappearance, a team coordinated by the National Center for Missing or Exploited Children and the Morgan Nick Foundation searched three heavily wooded areas with cadaver dogs. Police did not say what, if anything, was found during the search. They said those searches were based on information from a possible suspect. A person of interest in Lynn’s disappearance was identified but no arrest has been made.

Thanks largely to Lisa’s persistence, the Hot Springs police agreed to reexamine the case in 2012, with a new detective assigned to the cold case. Detective Lee Ann Clem, a compassionate and hard-working officer, reviewed Lynn’s case file, looking at every detail. She re-interviewed countless witnesses in an effort to connect the dots, even tracking down people in other states. Detective Clem has since been re-assigned to another case, but Lisa is hopeful that whoever takes over her sister’s case will continue to keep the case active. She feels the Hot Springs police department has a different mind-set now and if Lynn had disappeared today, her case would have been treated completely differently and her life would have been accorded the value it deserved.

Lisa volunteers with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. She says that while she still seeks justice for her sister, she and her family are at peace with the fact that Lynn is deceased and have forgiven the person who took Lynn from them. Lisa wants to bring her sister’s remains home, to be buried beside her other sister who passed away as a baby.

Jeffrey Lynn Smith was 16 years old at the time of her disappearance; today she is 43 years old. She is an African American female, with shoulder-length brown hair and brown eyes and a medium complexion. She is 5’3” tall and weighed around 110 lbs. when she was last seen. She has pierced ears and a mole on the right side of her chin. She was wearing a brown jacket, pink pants, and brown shoes when she was last seen.

Jeffrey Lynn Smith’s family has been looking for her for a long time, almost 27 years. Her sister fears that if the case remains unsolved much longer, those who know what happened to Lynn will all be dead. Lynn’s mother is in her 80’s and fears that she will pass away before learning what happened to her daughter.

If you have any information about her, please contact the Hot Springs police department, 501/321-6789.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Literary Monday - I got nothin'

This week, unfortunately, I do not have a title to recommend or review.  I started a book called This Must Be the Place by Kate Racculia.  Based on the reviews that I had read, I really looked forward to reading it.  But I got about halfway through the book, and I realized that I didn't care about any of the characters or the story.  I was pretty sure how it was going to turn out, anyway.

Fortunately, my library hold on Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt arrived, so I dumped the other book.  I also started listening to Arcadia by Lauren Groff while I was working on a jigsaw puzzle and will probably finish that by the end of this week as well.  Hope for reviews for next week.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wheat Belly Wednesday - starting over

After falling off my Wheat Belly diet while I was on vacation, I finally got back on track.  I know I gained several pounds while I was on vacation and right now I don't want to get on the scale.  I am already feeling better now that I am wheat-free again, sleeping sounder and the muscle aches from inflammation are fading away.

Although I feel so much better when I don't eat wheat (in fact, the fewer carbs and grains I eat, the better I feel), I have to admit that I miss foods made with wheat for the sheer convenience factor.  More planning is required to pack wheat-free lunches.  Lately I haven't had time to do much cooking - I'm still not back in my regular routine after coming home from vacation.  I need to go grocery shopping and re-stock my wheat-free pantry.  We are expecting a cold front here in Chicago beginning tomorrow, so I am planning on making some soup, including "cream" of butternut squash soup (will post recipe next week) and doing some comfort food cooking. 

Last weekend I made a big pot of southwestern chili with ground turkey, lots of vegetables, black beans and sweet corn.  It is adapted from a chili recipe that I found in one of Rachael Ray's cookbooks and tweaked to remove or substitute for the elements that might contain wheat or gluten.  I can't take spicy foods, so I make my chili mild and a little bit sweet.  Feel free to adjust the heat, sweetness and seasoning to your taste preferences.  The corn and beans add a couple of extra carbs to each serving, but I think it's worth it.

Southwestern chili:

1 lb. ground turkey
1 T. chili powder
1 T. Montreal Grill Seasoning
1 T. cumin
1 t. Tabasco or hot sauce
1 t. liquid smoke

1 onion, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped (can be green, red, orange, or yellow)
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/2 c. red wine
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 c. frozen corn kernels
Salt, hot sauce to taste
1-2 packages Splenda or Equal to taste
Garnishes:  shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped onions, guacamole

Heat a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat (I use a nonstick pan, so I don't bother with additional oil, but you can add 1 T. olive oil if you choose).  Add the ground turkey, breaking the meat up with a spoon.  Add the chili powder, grill seasoning, cumin, hot sauce, and liquid smoke to the turkey and cook until the turkey is no longer pink.  Turkey has very little fat, so you shouldn't even need to drain the cooked meat.  Add the onion and peppers and cook over low heat for 10 minutes.  Add the red wine and cook until the alcohol in the wine boils off and any bits that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan loosen up.  Add the tomatoes, beans and corn, and heat until chili starts to bubble; reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add salt, sweetener, and seasonings to taste.  Garnish as desired before serving.  Makes about 8 large servings.

You can serve the chili immediately, but if you cool and refrigerate it overnight, it will be even better the next day.  I like to serve it with a few tortillas chips, or if you like crackers with your chili, Trader Joe sells a rice and sesame cracker that is gluten-free and very tasty.  Another good way to serve the chili is warm over chopped lettuce and salad vegetables, with a sprinkling of shredded cheese and a spoonful of sour cream or Greek yogurt on top.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Missing Tuesday - Steven Koecher

I spent a week in southern Utah earlier this month, and we went through the city of St. George.  It is an attractive mid-sized city with a beautiful setting, a year-round mild climate and many amenities to offer its residents.  It brought to mind the disappearance of Steven Koecher, a St. George resident who vanished Sunday, December 13, 2009.  He has not been seen or heard from since that date.

Steven was born on November 1, 1979, into a large devout LDS family.  The family home is in Bountiful, UT, in northern Utah.  His parents are Deanne and Rolf Koecher and he has four siblings.

Steven was a college graduate and aspired to a career in public relations and communications.  He played guitar and tried his hand at writing music. He served a mission in Brazil, as had his father before him.  He enjoyed genealogy and often took his parents on cemetery tours to show them his discoveries.  An Eagle scout, Steven was a genuinely good person and tended to think the best of people. 

From September 2003 through May 2004, Steven worked as an intern at the governor’s office in Salt Lake City.  Before moving to St. George, he had worked as a stringer for the Davis County Clipper newspaper in Bountiful, UT, where his father was the editor.  Steven sometimes published his stories as Steven Thell (his middle name) to distance himself from his father’s position at the newspaper.  In March 2007, he took a job working for the online version of the Salt Lake City Tribune, but was laid off in July 2008.

After losing his job at the Salt Lake City Tribune, Steven took a sales job with in Salt Lake City in October 2008.  He moved to St. George, UT, in March 2009 to get away from the northern Utah winters while continuing to work for  He was let go from his job in April 2009 because the company felt he was not working out as a sales rep.  In December 2009, Steven found a job working part-time for Travis Window and Blind Cleaning Company, distributing flyers.  Also during the month of December, Steven was subcontracting to put up Christmas decorations to earn extra money.

After his move to St. George, Steven did not having much luck finding a full-time job.  His family said he was depressed and having financial problems, and that he refused an offer of financial assistance from his father to help him with his rent just days before he vanished.  Steven was also feeling pressured to live up to his family's expectations for a successful career, marriage, and family of his own, as his siblings and cousins had all done.  On December 9, a few days before arriving in the Las Vegas area, Steven drove 500 miles to Ruby Valley, NV, to visit the family of a girl he had briefly dated.  The visit was unannounced and the young woman was not even home.  Steven visited with her parents, John and Kathy Neff, and stayed for lunch, then returned to St. George, making stops at Wendover, NV, Springville, UT, and Nephi, UT en route.  He drove 1,200 miles in three days without any specific purpose.  It appears to be random or stress-induced behavior.  His behavior and mental state prior to his disappearance could have been leading up to amnesia (amnesia is rare in disappearances, but Steven had some of the classic behaviors).

Steven contacted both of his parents on December 10, sending his father a text message and speaking with his mother.  They talked about the holidays, and Steven told her that he expected to arrive in Bountiful to spend Christmas with the family on December 23.  That was the last time his parents heard from him.

On December 11, Steven assisted two children who were locked out of their St. George home.  Steven was seen leaving his residence on December 12, 2009.  He stopped for gas in Mesquite, NV, about 40 miles away from St. George.  No one knows why he was in Mesquite in the first place.  He bought Christmas presents for his brother’s children on the same day at the K-Mart in St. George – this was his last financial transaction according to bank records.  He was seen arriving home in St. George at 10 p.m. by a neighbor; the same neighbor saw him leave about a half hour later at 10:30 p.m.

He spoke with several men from his church the next day via cell phone and told them he was in Las Vegas, but did not state why he was there.  One of his friends called about a church meeting, and Steven offered to return to St. George.  The friend told him not to worry about it.  No one spoke to Steven after that call.

On December 14, Steven’s car, a white 2003 Chevrolet Cavalier, was found abandoned in the 2600 block of Savannah Spring Avenue, a cul-de-sac, in Henderson, NV.  The area is part of an upscale retirement community known as Sun City Anthem.  Video footage from two security cameras shows Steven parking the car on December 13 and then walking away with a firm step as though he had a specific destination in mind.  Approximately 6 minutes elapses from the time Steven's white car is first seen at 11:54 a.m., until he walks past the first security camera at exactly 12 noon.  The second video camera picks up Steven's car in the background at 11:54 a.m., and then the image of Steven walking at about 25 seconds after 12 noon.  So he waited in his car for six minutes before getting out.  It seems pretty obvious that he had an appointment with someone for 12 noon and wisely arrived a few minutes early.  We will never know what Steven did while he waited - it's a shame he didn't make a couple of cell phone calls while he sat in the car.

The surveillance footage shows Steven walking down the sidewalk, turning left, then crossing the street, and moving out of sight.  There is nothing unsure or hesitant about his demeanor.  He is dressed casually in sneakers and jeans, certainly not business attire that would be appropriate for a job interview.  Steven was carrying a folder, which could have contained resumes or flyers or sales contracts for the company that he worked for.  Possibly he had been contacted about putting up Christmas decorations for one of the houses in the area.  He appears to know exactly where he is going, as he is not approaching any of the houses to leave a flyer or pausing to look for a house number.  The two sections of video footage may be viewed on YouTube.

Steven’s shaving kit, clothing, pillow, and blanket were found in the car, and it appeared he had been sleeping in his car while driving around during the days before he disappeared.  The car also contained wrapped Christmas presents that he had purchased a few days earlier.  His cell phone, wallet and driver’s license were missing.  He had left his laptop computer and cell phone charger at home, indicating that he did not intend to be gone from home longer than a day or two.

About five hours after Steven was seen on the surveillance video, his cell phone signal was picked up several miles north of where his car was found.  Two hours later, his cell phone signal was picked up again, this time in Whitney Ranch, a Henderson subdivision.  At 6 a.m. on December 14, the day after Steve was last seen, someone used the phone to check for voice mail messages at a third location.  The signal remained in that location for two days, and then was lost, probably because the charge on the phone ran down.

Three days after his car was found abandoned, Steven’s parents were contacted by the Henderson parking police.  Steven’s father and brothers drove to Nevada to look for Steven just hours after they were notified, searching the Henderson and Las Vegas areas, posting flyers, and checking with hospitals, restaurants and even the Clark County jail and morgue.  They were baffled by the car’s location, since the area was not easy to find and off the beaten path for the casual visitor.  The car started and had a half tank of gas, so car trouble was ruled out.  Since he was not seen leaving the area, possibly Steven was meeting someone there and got into a car and drove off with this person.

Extensive searches were conducted near the last place Steven was seen and in other areas near Las Vegas.  No evidence turned up.  The case remains open and police are investigating any leads or tips.  Obvious places to search would include the area where Steven's car was found, and the locations where his cell phone signal was detected after he was seen on the surveillance footage.  Also, where was Steven when  he talked to the members of his church earlier in the day?  His cell phone records might give a clue to where he spent the night.  If he left St. George at 10:30 p.m., he should have arrived in the Las Vegas area shortly after midnight.

The Koecher family believes Steven went to Nevada to follow up a job lead.  Although he did not specify to his friends why he was there, he made no secret of the fact that he was in Las Vegas.  His disappearance does not appear to be intentional or planned, since he took no money and his passport was found in his apartment, as well as his computer and phone charger.  His bank account has not been touched since he vanished, and his cell phone has not been used.  If Steven did disappear voluntarily, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision.  Although his random driving in the days prior to his disappearance appears erratic and secretive, his family says he was just trying to stay busy.

There has been speculation that Steven was gay and could not reconcile his sexual orientation with his LDS beliefs, or that he left to start a new life, or that he had met a guy online.  It IS odd that Steven was 30 years old, a devout LDS, and not married.  He was a good looking guy, and marriage at a young age is encouraged in the Mormon church.  Even his mother made a remark about how he just needed to find the right girl.  There are a lot of guys out there who are straight, have never married, and just don't know how to connect with women (I have two brothers-in-law who fall into this category).  They feel lonely and left out at family gatherings.  So while it's unusual that Steven was 30 and not married, it doesn't mean he was gay.

Initially, an attempt was made to tie Steven’s disappearance to the disappearance of a Utah woman named Susan Powell who vanished the same week that Steven did, but no connection was made since Steven and Susan did not know each other.  Susan’s disappearance received far more media attention than Steven’s did.  Susan’s father-in-law was obsessed with her and it is possible he had something to do with her disappearance.  Her husband Josh had a suspicious alibi and is suspected of involvement, but he died in a fire in February 2012.

A Henderson man reported to police that he spoke to Steven twice in the parking lot of the Best Buy store in Henderson on Super Bowl Sunday 2010, over a month after Steven was last seen.  The man’s wife and another person were present and agreed that they were positive that it was Steven.  When he went to the Henderson police to report the sighting, the detective assigned to the case treated the information with suspicion, particularly regarding the date, even though the man had a date-stamped receipt from the store.  When the man related the conversation to Steven’s parents, they said it sounded exactly like Steven would have acted.

Workers at the International House of Pancakes in Flamingo also reported seeing Steven several times.  They believed he was homeless and disoriented.  Although his family staked out the restaurant for several days, they did not see Steven there.  Bus riders in the Las Vegas metro area reported seeing Steven riding buses there, but the sightings were never verified.

It seems like Steven's computer should have provided more clues.  Nowadays, people rarely do things like travel without leaving some sort of trail on their computers:  Google searches, websites, blogs, travel reviews, etc.  If Steven was short on cash and planned to sleep in his car, it seems like he would have checked out inexpensive restaurants and places to wash up in the morning (especially if he was planning to keep an appointment about work).  You can plan to eat breakfast at McDonald's but if you don't find out where one is located, you may not be able to follow through with that plan.

Steven’s car was not checked for DNA and other evidence, so it is unknown if anyone was with him during the days he was driving around or when he was in Nevada.  The Koecher family had a Salt Lake City police narcotics dog sniff over Steven’s vehicle, with no hits for drugs.  They hired a private investigator to canvass the residents in the Henderson neighborhood.  Other than the security footage, no one admits to seeing Steven.  A real estate agent who was driving a white SUV in the area that day does not remember seeing Steven (her vehicle appears on the surveillance tapes).

Steven’s mother Deanne thinks he may gave committed suicide based on his mental state, but other family members disagree and believe he was the victim of foul play.  They do not believe that Steven disappeared by choice and that he would have contacted them by now, even if he had decided to embark on a new lifestyle.  He was particularly close to his younger brother Dallin.  Rolf Koecher passed away suddenly in February 2011, without ever learning what had happened to his son.  Every December, Steven’s family and friends gather for a tree-lighting ceremony to mark the date of his disappearance.  For them, not knowing is the worst thing.  The police do not know what to think about Steven's disappearance:  there is no evidence of foul play, but they have no evidence or explanation about what happened to Steven or where he is.

Steven Thell Koecher was 30 years old at the time of his disappearance; today he is 32 years old.  He is 5’11” tall, of average build weighing around 180 lbs.  Steven is Caucasian and has blond hair and blue eyes.  He has a surgical scar behind each ear.  At the time he vanished, Steven was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans or Dockers pants, and white sneakers.  He is a clean-cut young man with no criminal or drug-related history.

Anyone having information about Steven should contact the Henderson police at 702/267-5000 or the St. George police at 435/627-4319.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Literary Monday - Two mysteries to recommend

I love a good mystery!  Here are two mysteries that I read last week that were quite enjoyable.

A Dark Anatomy by Robin Blake - a historical mystery set in the 18th century, in the English city of Preston.  Titus Cragg is a lawyer and county coroner, assisted by Dr. Luke Fidelis.  When the wife of the local squire is found dead in the forest under mysterious circumstances, Coroner Cragg is called upon to determine the cause of death.  Superstition, taboos, rumor, and the gaps between social classes all contribute to making the coroner's task even more difficult than he originally expected.  Almost gothic in atmosphere, this is the first title in a new mystery series.

Whack-a-Mole by Chris Grabenstein - this is the 3rd title in the John Ceepak mystery series.  Ceepak and his partner Danny Boyle are police officers in the resort town of Sea Haven on the Jersey shore.  On the eve of a sand sculpture competition, body parts start turning up around the town, and it soon becomes obvious that there is a serial killer at work.  When the killer decides to make the stakes personal, Ceepak and Boyle find themselves racing against the clock.  I attended the Bouchercon mystery conference in Indianapolis a few years ago, and Chris Grabenstein emceed the charity auction - he is hilarious!  He writes this series with nice touches of humor, and Danny in particular doesn't take himself too seriously.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wheat Belly Wednesday - Week #5?

I'm not sure exactly what week it is for my Wheat Belly diet, since I was on vacation last week and stayed with the gluten-free plan as best I could, but didn't manage to stay with it all the time.  So I'm not sure if I should call this week #5, or start over with week #1.

With three friends from As Good as Gold, I spent the week volunteering at the animal sanctuary for Best Friends Animal Society in Utah.  We have done this in past years as well.  It was a wonderful week - I spent time working with the dogs and the bunnies, and two mornings working with one of the groundskeepers in the cemetery on the premises, cutting sage, sweeping the sidewalks, and brushing off the markers. 

Working in the cemetery is not as depressing as you might think.  It's called Angels Rest and it is a very peaceful place.  So much love for the animals buried there, from their human companions!  It's very spiritual and emotional to work there, and I always feel that I am standing in for the families that can't visit right now.  The groundskeepers (Lenny, Dave, and Kurt) encourage us to talk to the animals while we work. 

Best Friends has a dining  room for the staff and volunteers, and everything they serve for lunch is vegetarian.  There is always a salad bar and frequently gluten-free choices like stir-fry vegetables, so the days that we ate lunch there, I was able to remain gluten-free.  Cocktail time was easy - wine, cheese, nuts and raw vegetables.  For other meals, I tried to make choices that should have been gluten-free, but might not have been since I couldn't see an ingredient list.  I had no major stomach upsets, so that was a good thing.  But now I am back on my wheat-free plan and hope to see good results in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Missing Tuesday - Angela Marie Finger

Angela Marie Finger disappeared from Las Vegas, NV on June 25, 2006.  She may be missing by choice, or she may be held against her will.

Born 11/8/1983, Angie is the daughter of Michelle and Patrick Finger. She has a brother, Josh, and a sister, Jen. Angie was employed as a cage cashier at the Monte Carlo casino in Las Vegas; she worked for the Monte Carlo hotel and casino for two years and had been promoted twice. Her family describes her as bright, sweet, and close to them.

All that changed when Angie met a man named Craig Raether on the Internet. Raether said he was 27 years old, and that his parents had been killed in a car accident. After meeting online, Raether came to Las Vegas to meet Angela in person in May 2006, and also met her mother, Michelle. Michelle disliked him from the start and suspected he was lying about his age and background. She describes him as smooth and manipulative, and believes that he may have gotten Angie involved with drugs. Raether proposed to Angie the day after meeting her. Although her parents did not like Raether, their opinions had little impact on Angie.

Shortly after meeting Raether, Angela’s personality changed; she began dressing provocatively and acting disrespectfully to her parents. Michelle and Angie argued frequently. Angie and her parents went out for dinner and bowling on Father’s Day (June 18, 2006), and began to discuss her brother Josh’s upcoming wedding. Michelle indicated to Angie that her new boyfriend was not welcome at the wedding, which triggered a huge argument and Angie stopped speaking to her mother. That was the last time her family saw Angie.

Michelle went on a planned vacation to Florida and attempted to contact Angie several times while she was out of town. When she returned, she decided to go visit Angie at her condo. When she arrived, she discovered that the condo was completely cleaned out. The phone was disconnected and the family had no way to contact Angie. She had also walked off her job. Her parents heard that she had moved in with her boyfriend and an older woman, but they did not see or hear from her for a year.

They were frantic with worry and began digging for any information they could find. Michelle located a woman who had shared an apartment with Raether and said that he had tried to get her to go against her parents’ wishes but that she had refused. Angie’s parents contacted the Las Vegas Metro Police and gave them the information that they had collected, but nothing came of their efforts.  In 2007, Michelle Finger had a heart attack.  Her greatest fear while recovering was that she would die without knowing what happened to Angie.  She decided to devote her life to finding her daughter.

In May 2007, Michelle was able to contact the real Craig Raether through the website. Craig said that the real name of man that Angie was with was William Matthew Smolich. In 2006, Smolich was actually 37 years old, not 27 years old as he told Angie and her family. Craig Raether was a former friend of William Smolich, and Smolich stole his identity; Smolich also used the alias Shawn Odow. He was a convicted pedophile wanted in Colorado for failing to register as a sex offender. Smolich was also wanted on charges in Arizona.

Craig’s information confirmed Michelle’s worst fears. Wanting to help Michelle find her daughter and to stop Smolich from using his identity, Craig began doing some investigating of his own. Within a few days, he sent Michelle links to a number of porno websites that Smolich operated and asked if the girl featured on the site was Angie. Although it was heartbreaking for Michelle to look at the sites, she confirmed that it was indeed Angie.

Angie’s mother combed through the websites and found a Colorado telephone number listed on one site. When she dialed the number, Smolich answered; she called him by his real name and demanded to speak with Angie. Smolich apparently transferred the call to another number and stayed on the line when Angie answered. Michelle quickly told her Smolich’s real name and that he was a convicted sex offender. She asked Angie where she was and told her she would come and get her. About ten seconds later, the phone line went dead. Michelle tried calling again repeatedly, but the number would go directly to voicemail. After Michelle’s phone call, Smolich took his websites offline. After October 2007, all traces of Angie and Smolich vanished – it was like they fell off the face of the earth.

Michelle contacted the Boulder County police department regarding Smolich, but they seemed uninterested in pursuing the information. Continuing her investigation, Michelle discovered that Smolich had rented office space in Mesa, AZ. She drove to Mesa and staked out the building for several days, but did not see Smolich or Angie. Local police obtained a search warrant and located an address for Smolich, but when they went to the address, he had already moved out.

Angie supposedly boarded a Greyhound bus in February 2007 in Portland, OR. Later in 2007, she was seen by several photographers at photo shoots in the company of her husband/boyfriend/manager who was really William Smolich. The most notable was the Arizona Shootout 2007, a nude photo shoot held in Phoenix. She identified herself as Angela Raether at least once, and said she was registered with a modeling agency as Angel the model. The couple appeared relaxed and comfortable together. Later, a man who identified himself as Randy Albrecht and said he was Angie’s uncle (Michelle’s brother) told one of the photographers that Angie had left Las Vegas voluntarily to get away from the dysfunctional relationship she had with her mother. He also made disparaging comments about Michelle and Patrick Finger. If that IS true, Angie should at least contact her family and tell them that she is all right, and then move on with her life.

The last information the family received was in February 2008. A man who purchased a car at an auction found some of Angie’s belongings inside. He returned the items to her family but nothing proved helpful.  Angie's parents separated in 2011; the stress of searching for their missing child undoubtedly contributed to the collapse of their marriage.

The FBI is investigating her disappearance and believe that Angela is in danger and may have met with foul play. In 2008, they requested Angie’s dental records for comparison with a body found in the Las Vegas area, but apparently there was no match. Angie may be a victim of human trafficking. She may have gone with Smolich willingly at first, but may now be unable to get away from him, as she has not contacted her family in over six years. Her mother says that even if Angie was angry with her, she would never have cut off contact with her dad and her brother and sister.

Angela Marie Finger was 22 years old at time she vanished; today she is 28 years old. She is 5’7” and weighs 105 lbs., a Caucasian female with brown shoulder length hair with red highlights and hazel eyes. She usually wears contact lenses and always has her nails done in a French manicure. Her ears and navel are pierced; she has a nose ring on the right side. She has two tattoos, one on her right arm (butterfly tribal band) and another on her lower back (sun with a heart in the center and a crescent moon in the heart). Her nickname is Angie, but she may also use the aliases Jordan, Angel, Crimson Heart, or Marie.

William Matthew Smolich remains on the Most Wanted list in Colorado. He is Caucasian, 5’11” tall and weighs 196 lbs, with blond hair and brown eyes. He is considered dangerous and anyone who might see him should not attempt to apprehend him.

If you have any information, contact the FBI’s Las Vegas field office at 702/636-5033, or the Las Vegas Metro Police Department at 702/828-2907.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Literary Monday - Two novels of identity

I was on vacation last week and did not have my laptop with me, so I didn't post anything.  I spent the week in Utah with some friends from As Good as Gold, volunteering at Best Friends Animal Society's sanctuary near Kanab.  I walked dogs, cleaned dog kennels and bunny enclosures, worked with one of the caretakers at the cemetery on the premises, and generally helped with whatever the animal caregivers needed.  In the evenings, there was plenty of time to sit around with a bottle of wine and talk, or relax with a book.  Two of the books that I read are worth noting.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty - When she agrees to act as chaperone for the daughter of an acquaintance (the daughter will later become famous as silent film actress Louise Brooks), wealthy, matronly, lonely Cora Carlisle has her own agenda for wanting to leave her home in Wichita and spend a few weeks in New York City.  While Louise attends classes at the Denishawn School of Dancing, Cora sets out to find out what she can about the mother who abandoned her as a toddler.  In the process, she comes to realize that her life is far from over, and that the prejudices and social codes of her economic class are often as stiff and uncomfortable as the corset that Cora wears relentlessly for the first half of the book.  Cora's life story (past, present, and future) turns out to be very different from what the reader expects when we first meet Cora.  A novel of changing identities and beliefs, as well as the transformative power of love and acceptance.

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani - Known for her Big Stone Gap and Valentine series, Trigiani explores her own identity and family history as she writes the story of her grandparents' lives:  how they found each other, lost each other, and unexpectedly found each other again in a new country.  Hardship and injustice are no match for true love and perseverence, even when the past catches up with you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wheat Belly Wednesday - Week #4

Starting on week #4 of the wheat-free lifestyle. I lost 9.5 lbs. in the first 3 weeks (was hoping for a flat 10 lbs.). We have a wellness program at work and I had to go for standard biometric testing yesterday, including a finger stick blood test where they check your glucose, total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides.  My blood glucose was 83, HDL was 68, and triglycerides were less than 45. They use a little machine to analyze the blood sample and the lowest triglyceride reading is 45 – because my reading was lower than that, the technician got an error reading for the LDL number, but the range was still well within the acceptable levels. And that was after eating a bacon cheeseburger (no bun), raw vegetables, and dressing last night.

I had dinner with my brother Jeff and his family last weekend. Jeff has been eating largely wheat-free for almost a year. Last fall, he noticed he was getting a belly and decided to stop eating bread. Just by cutting out two to four slices of bread daily, he quickly lost over 20 lbs. Since they learned that their daughter Jenna is sensitive to gluten, his wife Kim began cooking more gluten-free meals. Jeff still ate products that contained wheat occasionally:  pasta once a week, the occasional doughnut at work, cereal for breakfast, a wrap sandwich for lunch. But he began to notice that he felt better on the days that he didn’t consume any wheat. Also, when he had cereal for breakfast, he would be starving by 10 a.m. and really NEED that doughnut (sound familiar?).

Jeff has now cut wheat out his diet completely. There are rare times when he eats foods that contain wheat, but with a gluten-sensitive child, there is less temptation to do so. When he had his last visit with his doctor, Jeff had lost weight and his HDL cholesterol (the good kind) had shot way up while his triglycerides had dropped. When he told his doctor about eliminating wheat from his diet, she said that couldn’t possibly be the reason for his greatly improved cholesterol numbers and actually argued with him when he said that was the only change he had made. Someday, all doctors will be enlightened about the dangers of the grain we call wheat.

And at age 56, Jeff no longer has a wheat belly.

Fall has arrived in Chicago, and it makes me feel more like cooking. I love Italian food but have not been able to find a prepared pasta sauce that is sugar free or very low in sugar. So I fell back on the pasta sauce that I learned to make when fat-free everything was the rage, which happens to be sugar free as well. Consider this to be a basic recipe – I use mushrooms because I like them, but you can substitute whatever vegetables you like (green peppers, zucchini, etc.) and feel free to use fresh herbs like basil and rosemary if you have them on hand. Because I work full-time, I throw everything in the slow cooker before I leave for work, turn it on low for 8-10 hours, and it’s ready when I get home – and the house smells fabulous! You can also cook on the stovetop if you’re going to be home, just remember to stir periodically so the bottom doesn’t burn.

Spaghetti sauce:

2 – 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes
12 oz. tomato paste
4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced; if using the minced kind that comes in a jar,
     use 4 t.
2 medium onions, diced
½ lb. fresh mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 t. salt
2 T. dried Italian seasonings (crush between your palms when adding to sauce
     to release the flavors)
¼ t. ground pepper (add more if you like your food hot and spicy)
½ c. red wine

Put everything in the slow cooker and stir to blend. Cover and turn on low; will be ready in about 8 hours. When the sauce is finished cooking, taste and adjust the seasonings – I like my sauce a little on the sweet side, so I usually stir in 1-2 packets of Splenda at the end of the cooking process.  Try it over spaghetti squash, rice pasta, or baked with eggplant and ricotta cheese (recipe will follow in a future post).

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Missing Tuesday - Billy Smolinski

Janice Smolinski’s passions used to be gardening and jet-skiing. Now she devotes all of her energy to finding her missing son. She is sure that someone, somewhere knows something about her son’s disappearance. He was last seen by a neighbor on August 24, 2004, and has not been heard from since that date.

William Paul Smolinski, Jr., known as Billy to family and friends, was born on January 14, 1973, to Janice and William Smolinski, Sr. He attended Kaynor Technical High School for three years and then Naugatuck High School for one year, graduating in 1991. He studied auto mechanics at Naugatuck Valley Community College for one year, as well as for his CDL in Bridgeport, CT. He was considering pursuing a career in law enforcement.

Billy is an athletic guy who loves fishing, hunting, horseback riding, snowmobiling, and going to demolition derbies. He also loves listening to music and working on cars. He enjoys drinking beer with friends, and going for cheeseburgers or barbecue at Big Franks in Waterbury. He would often drop in at his younger sister Paula Bell’s house in the morning with a bag of bagels. Billy had no history of drug use, did not have a police record, and did not drink to excess.

He worked as a part-time tow truck driver for Durable Towing and was a full-time apprentice heating and air conditioning technician at Midland Heating & Air Conditioning. He also mowed lawns in the summer and plowed driveways in the winter to earn extra money. He was a dependable employee and had just been offered extra hours at his part-time job. He was physically and mentally in good health.

Billy was last seen at his home at 130 Holly Street in Waterbury, CT, between 3:30 and 3:45 p.m. on August 24, 2004. A neighbor said that Billy rang their doorbell and told him he was going out of town for three days to look at a car he was considering buying and asked them to watch Harley, his five year old German Shepherd dog, while he was gone. When the neighbor went to check on the dog and let her out the next morning, the house was locked and no one was home, but Billy’s truck was in the driveway. A key that was supposed to be hidden outside the house was not there. It is unknown how Billy left the house, whether he was driving someone else’s vehicle or was in the company of another person. The neighbor said Billy was acting normally and did not seem agitated when they saw him.

The Smolinski family found his behavior to be odd, since Billy had just returned from a vacation in Florida, and it was out of character for him to leave town without telling them, especially leaving the care of his dog to someone other than a family member or close friend. At the time he vanished, Billy was a first-time homeowner and was getting his house ready to paint when he had some spare time. Friends reported that Billy was very excited about having his own house and was planning home improvement projects. Inside the house, there was no indication that Billy was not planning to return. A receipt from Burger King time-stamped 2:59 p.m. was found in the trash inside the house, indicating that Billy had picked up the meal right before he spoke to his neighbor and that he had definitely been inside the house before he saw the neighbor. He had unpacked his suitcases after returning from Florida just 48 hours earlier. Also, Billy was devoted to his dog and would never have left without having arranged proper care for Harley. He treated her like his child, and it was seeing Harley left unattended that made alarm bells go off for the family.

Upon learning of his behavior, his family contacted the Waterbury Police Department and wanted to file a missing persons report immediately. Waterbury police refused to take the report and insisted on waiting three days, the time that Billy had specified to his neighbor that he would be gone (to their credit, the police department has since changed their rules about missing persons, realizing that evidence and clues can disappear and trails can go cold quickly). So it was three days before any investigation was begun, even though Billy’s truck was sitting in the driveway. Billy’s wallet and keys were found inside the white Ford pick-up truck. The truck was not checked for fingerprints, nor was it impounded. Prior to his disappearance, Billy deposited most of his last paycheck in his bank account. His accounts have not been accessed since he vanished, nor has his Social Security number been used.

Rather than waiting for the police and their three-day waiting period to be up, the Smolinski family sprang into action, doing everything they could to find Billy: putting up missing person flyers where they would be seen, calling everyone they could think of, contacting the media. Yet, Billy’s former girlfriend Madeleine Gleason and her friend Frances Vrabel were caught on film tearing down the missing person posters, often within minutes of when they were put up.

Gleason claimed that the Smolinskis were targeting her in some way by saturating her neighborhood and the places that she went with the flyers. She went so far as to sue Billy’s mother and sister Paula Bell as well as the Waterbury Observer newspaper in 2006, saying that they were harassing her and that the flyers had damaged her reputation at her job at B and B Transportion, where she worked as a bus driver. The Smolinski family put up flyers by the thousands all over Connecticut and as far away as Grand Central Station in New York, everywhere they could think of that people might see them, in an effort to find Billy. Gleason is not a suspect or even a person of interest in Billy’s disappearance, but her behavior is certainly suspicious for someone who has nothing to hide.

Gleason is several years older than Billy. Just days before Billy’s disappearance, they took a vacation together to Florida. They quarreled during the trip because Gleason kept receiving calls on her cell phone from another man, a married man named Chris Sorenson that Gleason was involved with. When they returned to Connecticut on August 22, after having dated for a year, the couple broke up. After the break-up, Billy went to Gleason’s house in the middle of the night to talk to her; she said that when he left, he was a little depressed but seemed all right otherwise. Although he was angry about Gleason cheating on him, Billy’s family says he was not despondent over the break-up and did not seem bothered much at all.

According to Billy’s phone records, the last three phone calls Billy made were to Sorenson on August 24, but Sorenson said he did not see Billy at all that day. Sorenson said he recognized Billy’s voice on one call, telling him to watch his back.

Madeleine’s lawyer, high-powered Connecticut defense attorney John Williams, has stated that he does not believe Billy is missing at all but went off on his own free will. At first, Waterbury police also believed that Billy left of his own accord. By 2006, the Waterbury police department had exhausted all leads and asked the FBI for assistance. The FBI disagreed with both Gleason’s lawyer and the local police: they believe foul play is involved in Billy’s disappearance and that he was murdered.

Billy’s mother Janice was arrested by the Woodbridge, CT, police for trespassing while putting up flyers about his disappearance; the charges against her were eventually dropped. The family believes the arrest was at the instigation of Madeleine Gleason.

Several years after Billy went missing, the Smolinski family was shocked to learn from a source close to the Waterbury police that Billy’s missing persons file contains information that he was murdered. Police received a tip that Madeleine Gleason’s son Shawn Karpiuk killed Billy and told a friend that Billy got what he deserved, and that he and a friend had buried his body. Karpiuk died of a drug overdose in 2005.

In 2008, Chad Hanson, a local man, was named in at least two anonymous tips as Karpiuk’s accomplice in Billy’s murder. When questioned by police, Hanson claimed to have helped bury Billy off Bungay Road in Seymour, CT, although he said he had no part in Billy’s murder. He said that he helped Karpiuk bury a barrel in a wooded area but did not realize that Billy’s body was inside until later. After a massive police search of the area turned up no evidence, Hanson admitted that he had lied and that he had no idea what had happened to Billy Smolinski. Hanson was serving out the remainder of a jail sentence at a halfway house in Waterbury for charges relating to Billy’s disappearance (making a false statement and interfering with a police investigation) when he escaped. He was recaptured after being on the run for a week.

In April 2012, the family hired a private detective to search a site in a wooded section in Shelton, CT. Jean Petrucelli, a cardiac nurse who lives very close to the area, believes she saw Billy’s white pick-up being driven into the woods followed by a smaller red car as she sat on her back deck on a summer evening in 2004, right around the time that Billy vanished. She noticed the two vehicles because she had never seen vehicles being driven into the woods before, nor has she seen any since. She noticed that the truck had unusual headlights, big and round, and that the grill on the front of the truck was flat; when she saw a photo of Billy’s truck, she immediately identified it as the same type of vehicle, if not the exact same truck. The two vehicles scraped against the trees as they forced their way into the woods. A police investigator agreed to meet Ms. Petrucelli after she contacted them in 2012, but he did not keep the appointment and police never followed up with her, until the private investigator began looking into her story and found evidence that may relate to the case.

The Waterbury police have agreed to reinvestigate the case from the beginning, based on new evidence and leads that were not investigated in 2004. It is always difficult re-visiting a case so many years later: witnesses move out of the area or have passed away; memories are not as clear as at the time of the event; evidence has been destroyed deliberately, by accident, or by nature. The family feels that the police ignored tips in 2004 and did not follow through on other leads. In 2012, the Waterbury police began a complete review of the case from scratch.

In August 2012, the lawsuit against Janice Smolinski and Paul Bell came to trial, and Madeleine Gleason was awarded $52,000 in damages for defamation of character. The Smolinski family is appealing the ruling. Families of missing persons are fearful that if the ruling is allowed to stand, it could alter the way they distribute flyers and disseminate information about their missing loved ones. It could also open the way for any potential witness or suspect to sue a missing person’s family for attempting to locate that person. Many people feel the ruling is blatant censorship and in violation of the Smolinkskis’ first amendment right to free speech.

William (Billy) Smolinski Jr. was 31 years old when he vanished; today he would be 39. He is a Caucasian male, with short light brown hair and blue eyes. He is 6 feet tall and weighs about 200 lbs. He is slightly bow-legged. His left ear is pierced and he wears a small diamond stud earring. He has a tattoo on his left forearm of a blue cross with the name Pruitt incorporated into the design; on his right shoulder is a tattoo of a blue cross outlined in orange. He does not smoke. When last seen, he was wearing a gold rope chain with a cross pendant, blue jeans, a blue work shirt and work boots.

If you know anything about William Smolinski’s disappearance, contact the Waterbury Police Department, 204/574-6941.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Literary Monday - Reinventing yourself in the 15th and 21st centuries

Although my two favorite books from last week are set in totally different eras, ironically the main characters in both books are working on finding their ways through total upheavals in their lives.

Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison - A novel of loss, redemption, and forgiveness, also learning to move on.  Benjamin Benjamin is floundering - he has lost his wife and family, hasn't worked in at least a decade (he was a stay-at-home dad), and is nearly out of money.  Almost by accident, he stumbles into a course that is offered at a local church on how to be a caregiver.  His first patient is a young man afflicted with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.  In addition to looking after his physical needs, Ben tries to find activities that will keep Trevor interested and engaged.  One project is a large map where they mark all the oddball tourist attractions that they hear about on the Travel Channel and the Weather Channel.  Finally they set out on a road trip to visit some of these places, and although the trip doesn't turn out as they had planned, they still manage to do some unforgettable things.  A wonderful read.

The Kingmaker's Daughter by Philippa Gregory - this is another installment in Gregory's Cousins' War series, known to us as the War of the Roses (it was called the Cousins' War up until the 19th century - the romantics in the 19th century decided to rename it the War of the Roses).  Gregory turns the tables on the protagonists in the last two novels in the series (Elizabeth Woodville in The White Queen and Jacquetta, Lady Rivers in The Lady of the Rivers) so that they are now the villains.  The main character here is Anne Neville, queen of Richard III and daughter of Richard, Earl of Warwick, known as the Kingmaker since he deposed Henry VI and put his cousin Edward IV on the throne.  Anne and her sister Isabel are pawns in their father's plots, and later in their husbands' plans, with the result that they come into conflict with Edward IV's queen Elizabeth Woodville and her witchy mother Jacquetta.  After a disastrous first marriage, Anne decides to make her own choices, but navigating Edward IV's court proves to be tricky.  Good biographical fiction about a queen that most of us know only from Shakespeare.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wheat Belly Wednesday - Week #3

It was a good second week – I lost another 2 lbs. and felt great. On Sunday morning, I tried a recipe for almond flour pancakes, and they were wonderful, very much like regular wheat flour pancakes (the recipe is toward the bottom of this post).

But after two weeks of wheat-free eating, like everyone else, I wondered if eliminating wheat was really the reason I was feeling so well, or was it just that I was eating almost entirely whole or real food? Secretly, I thought all those people who said they got sick when they ate a sandwich after eating wheat-free for a while were just a bunch of wusses, and that it was all in their heads. So I ate a couple of big slices of thick crust pizza with a glass of wine, a normal dinner for me before Wheat Belly. (And it was delicious.)

I can’t believe how SICK I was.

It started with an almost instantaneous headache right after I finished eating, followed by mild heartburn. I thought, “not so bad,” took some aspirin and went to bed. I woke up at 3:30 a.m. with killer acid reflux and severe gastro-intestinal distress and barely made it to the bathroom. Not to be too graphic, I think my colon was as clean as it was when I went for my colonoscopy. I took a couple of Immodiums, went to work, and made it through the day, but all I could focus on was going home. When I finally did make it home, I took care of my dogs, put on my pajamas, and went to bed – I think it was around 7 p.m.  Not going to do that again for a long while.

On to the wheat-free pancake recipe: I found this on A nice man named Robert Burton Robinson included it as part of his 5-star review of Wheat Belly. The pancakes are made with almond flour, and they have both the taste and texture of regular wheat flour pancakes. Almond flour isn’t cheap, so I’m not going to be making these more than once a week. Red Mill Almond Flour was $11.99 at my local grocery store. I found it cheaper online at, just $6.99/pound, but since they use 2nd day shipping, it was almost as expensive as buying it locally (which makes sense, since it's a food product and you don’t want those boxes sitting around for days and days for some little critter to get at). Since I was also ordering coconut flour and gluten-free cornstarch, I decided to order from anyway. The almond flour IS cheaper if purchased in larger quantities – the price drops to $6.59/pound if you buy the 5 lb. size and the shipping is the same, so including the shipping, it comes out to about $8.40/pound. I think they sell even larger quantities. Since it is pure ground almonds, I am storing the almond flour in the freezer so it doesn’t get rancid. I bought the bleached almond flour but may try the natural almond flour next time I order. (Re the gluten-free cornstarch – yes, I know it raises your blood sugar as much as wheat, but I need something to thicken gravy a little. I used two tablespoons mixed with water to thicken a huge pot of stew – I figured out it added 2 grams of carbs per serving to what was otherwise an almost no-carb meal.)

Almond flour pancakes:

1 c. almond flour
2 eggs
¼ c. + 2 T. water
2 T. oil (I used coconut oil – warm in microwave until it liquifies)
1 t. baking powder

Place all ingredients in a medium sized bowl and stir until combined into a batter.  If the batter is too thick to pour, stir in a little more water.  Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat; grease lightly with butter or coconut oil if desired. When the skillet is hot, pour 1/3 of the batter (about 1/3 cup) into the hot skillet; cook about 2-3 minutes until the top is bubbly, the edges appear dry, and the bottom is golden brown. Turn and repeat with the other side. Remove from pan to a serving plate to keep warm while you cook the remaining batter. Makes three 6” pancakes (2 servings).

To serve, I cut the pancakes in half and arranged three halves on a sandwich plate and topped them with a little butter. I have not been able to find a sugar-free pancake syrup that I like, so I warmed a couple of tablespoons of sugar-free apricot preserves in the microwave until it liquefied and spooned 1 tablespoon of preserves over each serving. I cooked a couple of breakfast sausages to go with each plate – yes, I know they’re bad for you but it was Sunday morning.  Enjoy!