2nd Anonymous Corpse of 2017

Here’s a very brief story about another unidentified person found dead in downtown Atlanta. This woman was found just three or four blocks from where our first homicide of 2017 took place. Earlier, I wrote about how this provided a potential jumping-off point for a piece of fiction, which was based on the total randomness of the unidentified dead guy. But now, we’ve got TWO corpses, both without names, both dead in a city that sounds violent but really only sees 100 murders in a bad year. Of course, the first place the press jumps to is serial killer, because that generates a lot of clickthroughs. But Diana and Mustapha are skeptical, especially because of the different methods (gunshot, then stabbing) by which each victim was killed.

A better link is that both victims were found at places the city is really trying hard to gentrify. The first man was found on Broad Street, which the city wants to turn into an arts district, by which they mean corporate, tourist-friendly arts district, because there are already a lot of local artists there; the second victim was found at Underground Atlanta, essentially the case study in terrible urban renewal projects. After more than twenty years of declining fortunes and increasing violence, Underground has been sold to a private developer, which has angered many people who also don’t like the corporatization of the arts district.

So the immediate thing Diana and Mustapha are going to look for is another killing at another gentrification site (Atlanta has plenty). Right now, I’m thinking they’re going to resist every media attempt to frame these as serial killings, and only gradually come to grips with the fact that they might be just that.

First Homicide of 2017

New year, new commitment to blog and fiction. Becoming involved in the election was in hindsight a terrible idea.

This poor as-yet-anonymous man marks Atlanta’s first murder of the new year. Few details are given:

A person walking down the street found a man shot to death Monday morning.

The man’s body was discovered on the sidewalk at 96 Broad Street Southwest around 6:30 a.m.

Investigators said the man was found with a gunshot wound to the head.

Authorities are working to identify the victim and to see if there were any cameras in the area.

This lack of detail makes it the hardest type of murder to solve, though of course the cops likely have more information than the media. Imagine a story where it’s just some guy, dead on the street, no ID, no witnesses, no cameras. The kind of perfect tabula rasa for a crime story: Diana and Mustapha grit their teeth running down pseudo-leads that turn out to be useless, while the brass bears down on them because dammit, we ought to solve the first murder of the year. But other murders, ones with actual named victims and motives, come along, and the ball gets… well, maybe not “dropped”, but at least placed in a cold case file.

Only much later does a series of encounters and internet posts lead to the victim’s identity. He’s from Texas or someplace equally far away; he’s mostly estranged from his family; they can’t for the life of them think why he might have gone to Atlanta. Nothing helps; there’s no closure.

At the end of the year, the very last homicide has a clear suspect, but they’ve no leverage on him. Someone else comes forward and gives a plausible narrative about how that suspect killed the first victim, as well. But in the end, this narrative proves to be false: the storyteller has a preëxisting beef with the suspect and made it up. They manage to patch up enough evidence to nail the suspect for the end-of-year murder, but the first one still remains open. There’s no closure.

Wrong Address

It’s disturbingly common for police to be sent to, or arrive at, the wrong address. Most of the time, they figure it out with just a little confusion. But since America militarized its police forces, this sometimes results in the police shooting a few people, or blasting a baby with a flashbang grenade, before things are sorted out. And since America, or at least Georgia, decided that “guns everywhere, always” was a super great idea, sometimes this happens:

An officer-involved shooting which resulted in a resident being shot by Henry County police is being investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

The incident occurred in the 600 block of Swan Lake Road near Stockbridge around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Henry County police responded to a 911 call reporting gunshots and an unknown female yelling for help. Three officers were dispatched to the neighborhood.

“Based on the directions given to the police officers there, they wound up at the residence of Mr. Powell,” stated Scott Dutton with the GBI.
Upon arrival at 690 Swan Lake Road, officers spotted William Powell, 63, who was armed with a handgun. According to the GBI, officers told Powell to drop his handgun, but he did not comply. Powell was then shot by one of the officers in the neck.

Powell was taken to Atlanta Medical Center where he is in critical condition as of Thursday morning.

Now he’s likely to die. Powell did what any red-blooded Georgian would do, which is walk out of his house in the middle of the night toting a gun, and the cops did their thing, which is shoot first and ask questions later, and here’s the result. Usually, the police are absolved of blame or responsibility, but this one is so egregious that the GBI is actually looking into it:

The GBI confirms Henry County PD responded to wrong address. Powell had nothing to do with the original 911 call. Investigators did eventually find the house where the woman was screaming.

“There was an argument there however they indicated that there was no screaming for help or shots fired,” said Dutton.

The officer who shot Powell is on administrative leave. CBS46 asked the GBI if we could hear the 911– they declined to release it at this point in the investigation.

So let’s create a hypothetical situation where cops are sent to the wrong address (or read the address wrong, which often happens), and the homeowner comes out packing, and shots are fired, and Diana and Mustapha have to come out and investigate the mess, and they’re getting ready to arrest the idiot cop who started firing, and only THEN does it occur to anyone to check out the correct house.

Another Murder on I-20

A very short story with no details given:

Police say a man is dead after a shooting on I-20 in DeKalb County.

According to a spokesperson with DeKalb County police, officers found a man in his late teens or early 20s dead from gunshot wounds in the car.

The man was found on I-20 eastbound, just east of Panola Road.

Where was the car found? Was there anyone else in it? We don’t know. What we do know is that less than a month ago, another man was found dead in a car very close to this location. The obvious conclusion is coincidence: the first guy was driven to the location by his friend from about 10 miles away in the other direction. But of course this is a crime fiction blog, so my hypothetical DeKalb County homicide detective is going to get to wondering what it is about this stretch of highway that makes it such a great location for a body dump. And while there will be no link between the two hypothetical corpses, they’ll both be linked to something even creepier.

1001 Tales in Atlanta After Dark

A very short story, though one that will almost certainly become more fleshed out as the investigation continues:

11Alive News has confirmed the husband of a Georgia assistant attorney general has been found shot to death.
Shahriar Zolfaghari, 36, is the husband of Camila Wright.

Wright was hired in November 2014 by Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens to deal with sex trafficking cases.

Zolfaghari was found dead Wednesday morning at the intersection of Rankin Street and Boulevard NE. Atlanta police responded to a 1:15 a.m. report of an unresponsive driver.

When they pulled Zolfaghari out of his vehicle, they discovered he had been shot. He was rushed to Grady Memorial Hospital, but he died during surgery.

In terms of Georgia crime news, the story is notable because it’s the husband of a powerful prosecutor. In a mediocre crime novel, the man’s analogue would be targeted by sex traffickers as revenge for his wife’s investigation and prosecution of them. In a shitty one, he’d be involved in the sex trafficking. If the novel had her do it and try to make it look like sex traffickers, it could be either really good or really bad, depending on the writer.

But what struck me about this was the guy’s name. Shahriar is just an ordinary Iranian first name, but it also happens to be the name of the wicked king who frames the narrative of the 1001 Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights. King Shahriar is cuckolded by his wife, so he vows to marry a woman every night and kill her the next day, so he cannot be cuckolded again. The heroine Shahrazad solves the problem by telling him a story so entertaining that he spares her life so he can hear the next installment; and the next night’s story has a story within a story, and so on until Shahriar finally agrees his idea was stupid. So, naturally, the link between the content of the stories and the guy’s name struck me.

But of course, in a really good crime novel, what got the husband killed would have nothing to do with the wife’s job.

Probably Just a Simple Robbery

Pizza delivery driver is a pretty dangerous occupation. You’re vulnerable, you have cash on you, your company usually isn’t keeping very good track of you, and any evildoer can summon you as long as they’re outside certain neighborhoods. And that whole porn plot never happens. It’s decent money in a good situation, but so few situations are good. Usually, when a pizza delivery guy gets shot, it’s by a customer or pretend customer looking for quick cash. But here’s a counterpoint: two suspects were arrested today in the death of a driver.

A Gwinnett County police spokesperson said Robert Purcell, 40, was found shot to death inside his car.

Police described a possible motive for the homicide as “robbery,” but Purcell was not at his job delivering pizzas at the time.

His co-workers at Marco’s Pizza near Snellville reported him missing after he didn’t show up to work Friday.

Later, police found Purcell inside his car, parked on the exit ramp from Highway 78 westbound to Hugh Howell Road.

Now imagine a fictional narrative with these same parameters. Any number of reasons our hypothetical driver could have been killed: first on the list is the tips he drove away with at the end of his shift. Again: cash can be dangerous. Kind of sad in that he’s forty, as we usually think of pizza drivers as being in their twenties. But the Great Recession messed up a lot of people’s lives. But there’s more: there are details that turn this story into more than just a simple tragedy.

Known as ‘Jesse’ amongst his co-workers, they tell CBS46 Purcell was living out of his car for the past few weeks.

They said Purcell had a disagreement with his roommates and he was looking for another place to live.

He spent most nights sleeping in his car parked behind Marco’s.

Originally from Michigan, Purcell’s co-workers said he had no relatives in the area.

We could run our hypothetical crime story as “guy who got dealt an increasingly bad hand”, or somewhere closer to “guy who lacked the interpersonal skills to get far in life”. This is detective fiction, so it will probably be both. But his co-workers seem to care about him: a lonely guy but okay to work with. What got him there? What got him away from Michigan? Beside the weather, I mean. Such a short story, and we can drag so much out of it. What’s the relationship between the falling-out with the roommates and his death? Or is there one? Or, if we wanted to be all oblique about it, what happened one night in the Marco’s parking lot where only later did the people making it happen find out the guy had been sleeping there and probably noticed what they were up to?

Step Up on Sweet Auburn

Last week, Martavious Boyd, a 32-year-old man about whom we know very little, got himself shot to death in the Sweet Auburn district:

Police said 32-year-old Martavious Boyd and another man got into an argument in the 100 block of Auburn Avenue around 11:30 Sunday night. The unidentified man pulled a gun and started shooting, according to police. The victim was hit at least once.

Investigators released surveillance video from a local convenience store, calling the man on the cell phone inside a person of interest in the case.

If you consider yourself a friend– step up. Forget the street code,” said stepfather Robert Willis, who is concerned some of Boyd’s friends and acquaintances may have key information that could lead to an arrest.

Willis and family members said Boyd had plenty of friends around the Sweet Auburn Historic District, having grown up in a nearby neighborhood.

“That’s what you’re doing to this family: denying them peace by not stepping up,” Willis said.

Let’s all think good thoughts for the family of poor Mr. Boyd, who deserved better. Sweet Auburn is a dangerous place; and while it’s not nearly as toxic as it once was, it’s still a rough area after dark.

If we were to construct a fictional story around this crime, there are three places we could go. One is gentrification: the Georgia State dormitories are nearby now, and the western end of the avenue is beginning, barely, to fill up with shops catering to students. Imagine a white girl who’s had two drinks too many walking into the middle of this, and both guys arguing simultaneously upset that what has always been black turf is being invaded and at the same time wanting to get the poor thing to safety lest the cops come down on the block like Thor’s hammer.

The second is the “stop snitching” culture, which is incredibly poisonous to underprivileged communities. Our victim analogue would also be from the neighborhood, so there could be a lot of drama there.

The last one is the overall history of Sweet Auburn. About 20 years ago, I got a tour of the area from a local (black) TV personality, who explained how the area was Atlanta’s best example of the law of unintended consequences. In the Jim Crow days, black folks couldn’t go into white people’s stores, so the thriving black middle class set up their own stores on Auburn Avenue. But once desegregation happened, most of those shoppers were like “sweet, I can go to Macy’s now” and Sweet Auburn just crashed, and never recovered, and never really has—although things are getting just the tiniest bit better, finally. Have that be the backbone of the story: both the people who were arguing had grandparents who owned successful boutiques back in the 1950s.

(No Known Relation)

This very short story packs a great punch. Wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran kills home invader:

A wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran fatally shot a man who forced his way into the veteran’s residence, authorities said.

Eddie Frank Smith, 69, was at home in Monticello on Thursday about 9 p.m. when Andre Smith, 22, (no known relation), forced his way into Eddie Frank Smith’s home through a rear door, according to a media release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

When Eddie Frank Smith went to investigate, Andre Smith lunged toward the resident, who shot the intruder once in the chest, according to the GBI.

The intruder ran away and collapsed about 100 yards from the residence. Both Eddie Frank Smith and neighbors called 911. Andre Smith later died at Jasper Memorial Hospital.

Monticello is in central Georgia, about as middle of nowhere as you can get, considering it’s only about 70 miles from Atlanta. And this story just feels like Georgia: guns, dumb crime, no consequences for shooters. The only piece of data I’d want to know is whether Eddie Frank Smith is a white guy.

Rewriting this crime as a fictional story wouldn’t require much. You’ve got a homeowner who looks like an easy victim if you’re a dumbass twentysomething, but who in fact not only has combat training but a long history of being wary of every possible imaginary danger. Tell it from both perspectives. But in the story? There have to be three characters, not two—and they all have to have the same last name.

Normal Teenagers Steal Cars

Last month, I wrote about Barney Simms, local community leader killed in his front yard, and while I made it clear that the real Sims deserves our respect, as a crime fiction writer the story was very appealing. The murder of a public figure, I wrote, taking a fictional community leader as the example, gives rise to all kinds of other causes that the typical motives for murder don’t cover.

Recently, a suspect, 17-year-old Eric Banks, was arrested for Simms’ murder. Banks was seen with Simms about an hour before his death: Simms took him to lunch. Banks’ mother claims, naturally, that her son is innocent:

She said her son told her he accepted a meal from Simms at the Waffle House, but that when the two parted ways, Simms was still alive.

“After that, (my son) left. He went somewhere. I don’t know where he went after that,” she said.

Atlanta homicide investigators said they believe Simms was shot about an hour after that encounter. A neighbor found Simms dead in his front yard. His car had been stolen.

Only CBS46 was there as police lead Banks to jail, now charged with murder.

“He did not kill that man. He’s not capable of doing nothing like that,” said Banks’ mother.

She acknowledged that her son has a criminal history.

“But not with no violent history or nothing bad,” she said, “only like what teenagers do — normal teenagers do — steal cars and stuff like that. That’s it.”

“Normal teenagers steal cars” is just great: it had to be the title here. So let’s return to fiction, and have a similar situation where community leader takes wayward teen to lunch, then is shot an hour later. In real life, the cops probably have all kinds of reasons to believe Banks is guilty, but in fiction, let’s say we don’t. The fictional young man was seen with the fictional community leader, the fictional young man seems good for it, lets himself get bullied into some kind of quasi-confession, charges are filed.

But in the original piece on Simms, I wrote about how people might have all kinds of reasons to have it in for a community leader. Let’s just say someone was looking for a chance. They see our community leader with our wayward/normal teen, figure out the kid is the perfect patsy, show up and kill the leader and drop the gun off in the kid’s yard. Now imagine the story from the mom’s point of view, and from the actual killer’s. Twin them off and alternate between them, or do half the story from one’s POV and half from the other’s. Someone out there was so intent on what they thought was justice that they’re going to commit a great injustice. The mom surprises herself by actually being willing to believe her kid did it—at first.

Another Murder, Another Traffic Jam

Early Thursday morning, yet another murder wrecked the commute into Atlanta, this time from the east rather than the northwest:

More than six hours after DeKalb County police found someone dead from an apparent gunshot wound on I-20, officials have reopened portions of the interstate that were shut down while they conducted their investigation.

About 4 a.m., officers found a male passenger dead in a vehicle on I-20 at I-285, DeKalb police Maj. Stephen Fore said.

“The driver was cooperative with police and it was determined the shooting incident occurred in Forest Park,” Fore said.

More questions than answers here. I don’t quite understand the link between “finding a passenger dead in a vehicle” and “the driver was cooperative with police”. What I’m guessing is that the driver was pulled over, but the article could have clarified that. If the guy was on I-20 in DeKalb County, he was about ten miles away from Forest Park, so I’m not sure what that’s all about, either.

If we made a similar story into a murder mystery, we could go two ways. One would be to link it with the earlier story about the woman who murdered a (homeless) pedestrian on her double-carjacking spree into town: why are people trying to tie up Atlanta’s already awful commute with these senseless deaths? The trouble is that the two crimes have nothing else in common. Though it would be fun to imagine someone who had some interest in stopping traffic and then orchestrating the two crimes, it stretches the willing suspension of disbelief too much. Who would benefit from such a thing and how? Advocates of public transit? (You know, that’s not such a bad idea.)

Better still, ignore the first story and write this from the perspective of the driver. What was he up to that got his passenger shot in Forest Park, and how did it result in his driving ninety degrees around the Perimeter? Where was he going? Why didn’t he go to the nearest hospital? Now construct a narrative that makes this the most plausible thing to do: what’s up with him or the passenger that he’s willing to drive ten miles with a corpse?

What if he didn’t realize the guy was dead, or even shot? As in, his friend is sleeping off a few drinks in the passenger seat, and is struck through an open window by a stray bullet in such a way that our driver just doesn’t notice that the guy goes from asleep to dead? And then he gets pulled over for a broken taillight, and the cop sees blood on the passenger side door. Now imagine him driving along the highway, thinking himself a good person for driving without the radio on so his buddy can snooze, and then the blue lights go on. And for Atlanta, the real tragedy is that the commute gets tied up.