this day in crime history: august 26, 1980

On this date in 1980, two men made an early morning delivery of what appeared to be computer equipment to the Harvey’s Resort and Casino in Stateline, NV. Harvey’s employees soon discovered the “computer equipment” and the note attached to it. The note informed them that the large package was a bomb, and that it would go off unless the bombers were paid $3 million by the casino.

Police, the FBI, and the ATF were called in. Bomb squad personnel examined the object and confirmed that it was a bomb. The device, which was very sophisticated, contained a large amount of dynamite.

The decision was made to pay the ransom, then concentrate on tracking down the extortionists later. Unfortunately, the delivery of the ransom money – which was to be done by police helicopter – didn’t go off as planned. This left the bomb squad with the task of figuring out how to disarm the largest dynamite bomb anyone in law enforcement had ever seen.

After x-raying the equipment and carefully examining it, the explosive ordnance disposal experts decided that the best was to disarm it way to quickly disconnect the detonators before they could set off the dynamite. To do this, they rigged shaped charges of C-4 and positioned them so they would blow the detonators off. Sand bags were stacked around the bomb to minimize the damage in case the plan didn’t work. This was a good idea, as the plan didn’t work. The shaped charges set the bomb off, destroying most of the casino and causing some damage to the neighboring hotel. Thankfully, there were no injuries from the explosion.

As the ensuing investigation unfolded, a suspect soon emerged: a Hungarian immigrant from Clovis, CA named John Birges. Birges, as it turned out, lost thousands of dollars gambling at Harvey’s. (note to all you high rollers out there: You can lose. That’s why they call it “gambling.”) In the summer of 1981, investigators received a tip that Birges had stolen dynamite from a construction site. Forensic examination matched the dynamite used at the site with that used in the Harvey’s Casino bomb. John Birges was arrested in August 1981, almost a year after the bombing. His three accomplices were soon arrested as well. It wasn’t long before they flipped and agreed to testify against Birges in exchange for lighter sentences. John Birges was convicted of multiple state and federal crimes. He died in prison of liver cancer in 1996.

Nobody Move!

On this date in 1980, two men made an early morning delivery of what appeared to be computer equipment to the Harvey’s Resort and Casino in Stateline, NV. Harvey’s employees soon discovered the “computer equipment” and the note attached to it. The note informed them that the large package was a bomb, and that it would go off unless the bombers were paid $3 million by the casino.

Police, the FBI, and the ATF were called in. Bomb squad personnel examined the object and confirmed that it was a bomb. The device, which was very sophisticated, contained a large amount of dynamite.

The decision was made to pay the ransom, then concentrate on tracking down the extortionists later. Unfortunately, the delivery of the ransom money – which was to be done by police helicopter – didn’t go off as planned. This left the bomb squad with the task of figuring…

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this day in crime history: April 20, 1986

Memorial to the incident in Edmond, OK036750-police-raid

On April 20, 1986, Postal Service employee Patrick Sherrill went on a shooting spree in a post office in Edmonds, OK. Twenty people were shot, leaving fourteen dead and six injured. At the conclusion of his rampage, Sherrill turned the gun on himself and committed suicide. It is believed that the shooting may have been motivated by a reprimand that Sherrill had received the day before. The incident is often credited with inspiring the phrase “going postal.”

Further reading:

Murderpedia – Patrick Henry Sherrill

Wikipedia – Patrick Sherrill

Time – “Crazy Pat’s” Revenge

Nobody Move!

USPSmemorial Memorial to the incident in Edmond, OK

On this date in 1986, Postal Service employee Patrick Sherrill went on a shooting spree in a post office in Edmonds, OK. Twenty people were shot, leaving fourteen dead and six injured. At the conclusion of his rampage, Sherrill turned the gun on himself and committed suicide. It is believed that the shooting may have been motivated by a reprimand that Sherrill had received the day before. The incident is often credited with inspiring the phrase “going postal.”

Further reading:

Murderpedia – Patrick Henry Sherrill

Wikipedia – Patrick Sherrill

Time“Crazy Pat’s” Revenge

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The science behind forensic toxicology

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson) Featured Image -- 122
WRITTEN BY: Katherine Ellen Foley

When we get our blood tested for cholesterol, it doesn’t take long to get the results. And if someone turns up at the hospital with what looks like a drug overdose, doctors can perform a quick test to verify their suspicions before treatment.
But unlike popular crime series like CSI, in which investigators whip up test results in the span of a quick montage, most forensic toxicology reports take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. This can be an excruciating wait after mysterious deaths and unsolved crimes. Why does it take so long?
Quartz spoke with Robert Middleberg, a toxicologist from NMS Labs in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, to find out.
Unlike other medical tests, where technicians isolate a specific compound like cholesterol, Middleberg says that you don’t always know what you’re looking for with forensic toxicology. “If you have a young person who is found dead in bed and there’s no history of drug abuse, you’re looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack,” he tells Quartz.
Testing times

After a body is found and an autopsy is performed by a pathologist, a separate lab will look for any environmental or pharmaceutical toxins that could be the killers. Without any clear clues, Middleberg says they will start testing for about 400 different substances. “We never know what we’re going to get,” he notes. It takes creative intuition to guide a cycle of testing and interpreting the results of tests to inform further testing.
Once an initial analysis returns a match for a particular substance, toxicologists must gather more specifics for the official report. Bodies that have already started decaying produce some toxins naturally, like ethanol (another name for the alcohol we drink) and cyanide, so toxicologists may have to perform additional tests to determine whether these played an active role in the cause of death.
All of this is further complicated by the fact that samples often arrive in less than ideal conditions. “If somebody is pulled out of the water after being missing for two or three weeks, these samples are very, very bad,” Middleberg says.
Unlike testing in an emergency room to confirm an overdose, pathology focuses on specifics. “For [medical toxicologists], sometimes it doesn’t really matter exactly what’s there,” Middleberg says. “In our world, the pathologists want to know exactly what it is and how much.”
Not every test is a complicated affair—despite all of the unknowns, Middleberg says that most labs try to have a turnaround time of 3-5 days for ruling things out and 7-10 days for identifying the specific factors leading to death.
Looking for clues

Like detectives, toxicologists look for clues to narrow down which tests are necessary. Knowing a subject’s history with drug or alcohol use obviously helps. There are also several somewhat macabre rules of thumb that tip toxicologists off to seek substances they wouldn’t normally test for:
Bright red blood as a sign of carbon monoxide poisoning
A green brain as a sign of exposure to hydrogen sulfide
Chocolate brown blood as a sign of excess methemoglobin poisoning
Hair falling out can be a sign of chronic arsenic or thallium poisoning
Blue skin can be a sign of gadolinium poisoning
Cocaine and methamphetamines can change the shape of the heart
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this day in crime history: august 8, 1962

Nobody Move!

EADmug

On this day in 1962, Elizabeth Ann “Ma” Duncan was executed in the gas chamber at California’s San Quentin prison. Duncan had been convicted in 1958 for conspiracy to commit murder. She had paid two men, Augustine Baldonado and Luis Moya, to kill her daughter-in-law, Olga Duncan. Olga was seven months pregnant at the time. The two killers beat and strangled her, then buried her in a shallow grave. According to the coroner, she was still alive when they buried her. The elder Mrs. Duncan’s motive was her fear that the impending birth of her grandchild threatened her incestuous relationship with her son.

Ma Duncan and her two henchmen were tried and convicted. They were all sentenced to death. Sentence was carried out for all three on August 8, 1962.  It was the last triple execution in California, and the last execution of a woman in the state before the…

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