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Thursday, May 15, 2008

How to Murder Someone and Get Away With It

Thought that would get your attention! First, FBI and local authorities, rest assured there is no evil intent here--more in the nature of a warning for first responders at sea. In particular, the Coast Guard and local marine police.

Second, consider the way the Western world has ritualized and merchandised murder: not just Murder Inc (the mob) and Murder Ink (the bookstore), but all the Law & Orders, CSIs, Homicides, alphabetical-titled serial killer novels and their ilk. It's really the one industry America can't out-source.

We're murder-mad. The writing is a form of scripture. The meager plot is always the same: serial killer, maverick cop, pissy superiors... What we like is the drapery hung over the bones of the deceased.

Ian Rankin is a writer I'm very fond of, but I admit I'm a sucker for his serial killer plots because a), they take place in a grunge universe called Scotland, which suits my mood; and b) he drapes the bones of his plots in great songs and lyrics drawn from the dour 60-ish English-Scots-Irish-American-depressed-drinkers songbook. Oh, and c) nobody on the police side in his books carries a gun until it's too late.

Would've saved Sean Bell, that last.

Not a total digression, and no, I haven't forgotten the promise of the title: How to Murder Someone and Get Away With It. In my last post, I wrote of the stupidity of landlubber criminals who think that stealing a boat (and murdering the owners) is a ticket to paradise. See: John Fitzgerald Kennedy (the murderer in Long Beach, CA not the dead President). See: Palmyra Atoll Murders (a story I worked to get in print, unsuccessfully, years before Vincent Bugliosi's very good book).

Well, I was partly wrong in thinking only meth addicts and the spawn of those raised on reality television would call this boat-stealing business a plan. It turns out that it is very hard to successfully prosecute those who commit murder at sea so long as a) they dispose of the body so that it cannot be found; b) do the deed outside the 12-mile limit; and c) call in a Mayday so that the Coast Guard or other responder muddies up the crime scene before they know it is a crime scene.

I found this out in the process of following and editing a story about the Joe Cool, a yacht that was hijacked off Miami (by quite a pair: a former Guantanamo prison guard and his now-gay former prisoner! jeez!). My writer on the piece, Vince Daniello, himself a boat captain, was appalled at what he discovered about the loopholes for crime at sea. He says he's going to be extra-careful checking out bona fides for any who want to charter the yachts he works on...

Check out Vince's story: Who Killed Joe Cool? (It was one of my last before Yachting cast me adrift in a skiff with a jug of water, a bowl o' haggis and a parrot who likes talking dirty...)

Anyway, this dirty little secret about crime at sea is apparently folklore in stir: reaching a lot of criminals and petty cons and grifters looking for a dream score. So they aren't so stupid after all. Depressing thought, but inescapable as this has been going on a good long while, and nobody on the right side of the law has made much of a fuss about it.

Indeed, that's why you had Miami Vice--the real version--filling the news in the 80s with so many crimes and smuggling exploits in the Caribbean. Nobody stayed in jail for long.

The new motto: What happens outside the 12-mile limit, stays outside the 12-mile limit.

P.S. Here's our 18th Century (or earlier) word of the day: Ilk.

As in "serial killer novels and their ilk." Well, turns out this is a Scottish clan name--like the Campbells and the MacDonalds--and, yes, there is a chap who calls himself Lord of the Ilk. It must be hard for his scribe not to sign off on all his proclamations with the linguistic equivalent of the 120 places of pi: "Lord of the Ilk and all their ilk and all their ilk and all THEIR ilk and all their ilk...."

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