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The Case of the Vanishing Blonde
November 19, 2010 11:40 AM   Subscribe

The Case of the Vanishing Blonde
After a woman living in a hotel in Florida was raped, viciously beaten, and left for dead near the Everglades in 2005, the police investigation quickly went cold. But when the victim sued the Airport Regency, the hotel’s private detective, Ken Brennan, became obsessed with the case: how had the 21-year-old blonde disappeared from her room, unseen by security cameras? The author follows Brennan’s trail as the P.I. worked a chilling hunch that would lead him to other states, other crimes, and a man nobody else suspected. [printer-friendly version; behind-the-scenes video; via]
posted by kirkaracha (131 comments total) 100 users marked this as a favorite

 
God damn this is a good story.
I hope the reason there havent been any comments yet is because people are actually reading the whole thing (A bit unorthodox I know) but if you were considering it then DO NOT MISS THIS.

It's like Law and Order, but not moronic and poorly acted.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:01 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why did she win $300k? What should the security company have done differently?
posted by small_ruminant at 12:02 PM on November 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


Dude. Spoliers.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:03 PM on November 19, 2010


“Think how good you’ll look if we actually catch the guy responsible. You’d be solving a horrible crime!”

They seemed distinctly unmoved.

“Look at how cool this guy is,” he told them, replaying the video. “He just raped and beat a woman to death, or thinks he has, and it’s not like he’s all nervous and jittery. He’s cool as a clam! Tell me the kind of person who could do such a thing and be this nonchalant. This ain’t the only time he’s done this.”

A discussion ensued. There were some in the room who wanted to find the rapist, but the decision was primarily a business calculation. It was about weighing the detective’s fee against a chance to limit their exposure.
If they thought they were open to litigation before, it'd be nothing compared to if they hadn't tried to track down someone they thought was a serial rapist.
posted by DU at 12:04 PM on November 19, 2010


I don't know. I would have thought they'd feel their responsibility was done, once they'd turned everything over to the police.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:06 PM on November 19, 2010


I can't get it to load (on an iphone). Something about too many redirects.
posted by R. Mutt at 12:07 PM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Damn, that was a good. Yay for good guys winning and boo for tracking down criminals being a cost/benefit analysis.
posted by nomadicink at 12:09 PM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Wow. Amazing. The hunch based on the security footage is serious Hollywood stuff.
posted by ALongDecember at 12:09 PM on November 19, 2010


Wow, that's a remarkable bit of detective work by someone who loves the hunt and is good with puzzles. The notion of him going through hours of CCTV footage and carefully eliminating people one by one until he had a single suspect is heady stuff. And then the lengths he goes to to prove his hunch correct... If I ever needed an private detective, I'd really want this guy working for me.
posted by hippybear at 12:11 PM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Not to brag, but I figured it out before Encyclopedia Brown. Very good read.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:11 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have the same problem.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:11 PM on November 19, 2010


This was a good Pilot. Let's order 16 episodes for the first season. If you can get us John Lithgow, I can probably get us an 8pm timeslot.
posted by Plutor at 12:13 PM on November 19, 2010 [24 favorites]


Good story.
posted by Perplexity at 12:15 PM on November 19, 2010


Yep, that is a must read.
posted by empath at 12:16 PM on November 19, 2010


Why did she win $300k?

That was a settlement. The equation for the value of a settlement is basically XY + Z = P where X is the likely value of a successful claim, Y is the probability that the plaintiff will win, Z is the cost of litigating the case, and P is the price of the settlement. Where P is less than X, the insurer will settle if it can.

The insurer basically decided a P of $300k was less than X. Given that it was going to cost them at least $50k if not $100k in attorneys fees alone, plus the decent chance that a sympathetic plaintiff would make the jury want to give her money (X could easily have been $1 million), $300k was not a bad deal for the insurer.

I work for an insurance company. That's how we think. Doesn't matter who was liable or not: the insurer will do what costs the insurer the smallest amount of money. If I had been the insurer, I'd have been trying to settle this thing as fast as possible.

If that makes it sound like there's an incredible incentive for defendants to settle... there is. Which is why the vast majority of cases never go to trial. Most insurance litigation is just a complex way of settling a case, usually involving the plaintiff's attorney doing enough discovery to convince their client that settlement is in their best interest. Most of the time when settlement doesn't happen it's either because the plaintiff and/or their attorney has some kind of irrational belief that they can win a huge verdict* or because the equation above doesn't give a clear answer. Where P is about the same as X, the insurer may as well go for it: they may win, after all.

*Private plaintiffs can be pretty unrealistic. Everybody wants the big payday, but $1 million verdicts do not result from $10,000 injuries.
posted by valkyryn at 12:16 PM on November 19, 2010 [24 favorites]


I'm surprised at how skeptical everyone was when Brennan wanted to go after the guy on the elavator. The process of elimination, the thing with bringing out the suitcase in the middle of the night and coming back without it later, the extra tug on the suitcase to get it over the gap; to me these elements point to something worth checking out. To the guys in the room it amounted to nothing more than a series of unrelated observations. Even after Brennan tracked the guy down they STILL had no belief that he may even possibly be involved. Maybe it's just the way it's written? I don't know, it just seemed odd. In stories about detectives that get posted to metafilter, the detective either gives up altogether (It's hopeless!) or picks a guy at the scene and railroads him to prison (I'm gonna bust this punk!) It's kind of depressing.
posted by amethysts at 12:17 PM on November 19, 2010


I think that it's appalling that the police themselves didn't go through that footage. I mean he was seen in the elevator talking to her, how could he not be a suspect?
posted by zeoslap at 12:18 PM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Chilling. That PI has done a great service to the world, and I'm really relieved that guy has been put away.
posted by Zed at 12:20 PM on November 19, 2010


I think that it's appalling that the police themselves didn't go through that footage.

Maybe, but it's also understandable. Simply a shortage of resources. That must have taken him a couple of dozen hours. Most police departments can't afford to spend that much time on a stone cold whodunnit. It's pretty much standard practice in many police departments across the country that if a lead doesn't materialize pretty quickly, a case is deprioritized in favor of cases with more promising leads.
posted by valkyryn at 12:23 PM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Brennan called NASA to see if they had a way to enhance the picture. He described the camera and was told that it couldn’t be done.
Does this mean that there are some cameras whose recordings have an "Enhance!" feature?
posted by Llama-Lime at 12:28 PM on November 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


Good story. (That PI wears way too much jewelry, though.)

What should the security company have done differently?

Well, unless I missed it in the article, there weren't any cameras in the hotel hallways; it seems all the surveillance cameras were on the ground floor only (lobby, entrance, exits, pool area). If they'd had cameras in the halls on each floor, they might've captured her assault, or more likely, she wouldn't've been assaulted in the first place because of the cameras being in plain view.
posted by Gator at 12:30 PM on November 19, 2010


Blonde what? I mean, can't we say 'woman'? I know the OP is picking up the Vanity Fair headline, but come on! She's a person not a hair color!
posted by Mister_A at 12:31 PM on November 19, 2010 [15 favorites]


That was a great story but whenever I read great true-life stories like that I wonder what's being left out. Life shouldn't be quite that much like fiction.
posted by ghharr at 12:32 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


The insurer basically decided a P of $300k was less than X. Given that it was going to cost them at least $50k if not $100k in attorneys fees alone, plus the decent chance that a sympathetic plaintiff would make the jury want to give her money (X could easily have been $1 million), $300k was not a bad deal for the insurer.

I work for an insurance company. That's how we think

Valkyryn was seen at the last MeFi meetup getting into a fistfight with himself in the parking lot aferwards. He also makes a hell of a good face soap.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:33 PM on November 19, 2010 [28 favorites]


She's a person not a hair color!

Oh, come off it. People of both genders are routinely referred to by their hair color alone. The editor wanted a punchy headline and got one.

posted by valkyryn at 12:33 PM on November 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


Valkyryn was seen at the last MeFi meetup getting into a fistfight with himself in the parking lot aferwards.

Fortunately, my company doesn't really provide coverage for products liability. For which I can only thank providence.

Still, whether or not to settle a claim isn't really about doing the right thing, morally. The plaintiff definitely gets paid if they settle, so it's hard to argue that they're getting screwed, especially since they may or may not get paid if they don't settle. In a sense, everybody wins: the insurer cuts its losses, the plaintiff gets paid now instead of in three or five years, and no one has to go to court.
posted by valkyryn at 12:38 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't think of any time I've ever heard of a guy referred to by his hair color alone. We might say the dark-haired guy, the bald guy, the blond-haired guy.
posted by mareli at 12:38 PM on November 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


She's a person not a hair color!

You can't say a blonde man (it would be blond); adding "woman" would be redundant.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:40 PM on November 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


I think that it's appalling that the police themselves didn't go through that footage. I mean he was seen in the elevator talking to her, how could he not be a suspect?

I'm guessing that the police were relying too much on the victim's description of "two or maybe three white males." She further described her attackers at having either Hispanic or Romanian accents. Was this erroneous testimony due to her traumatic head injuries, or was she lying for some reason?
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:42 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


It just sounds a little cheesy hard-boiled Philip Marlowe masculine bull-shitty to me. Does the piece mention her gams? Did the hero know she was trouble the second he laid eyes on her, but that didn't stop him laying eyes on her? Etc.
posted by Mister_A at 12:44 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is great. Good job Ken Brennan, we need more people like you.
posted by zoogleplex at 12:44 PM on November 19, 2010


Ooh! Shoulda said bombshell.
posted by Mister_A at 12:45 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised he got such a light sentence in Florida, but I guess there was no smoking gun.

So to play a horrible devils advocate here, if the guy used a condom instead of leaving semen in all his victims, he's still be preying on women, wouldn't he?
posted by mathowie at 12:46 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why did she...

Thanks, asshole!

I wonder if the PI watches Dexter. :)
posted by rhizome at 12:47 PM on November 19, 2010


Was this erroneous testimony due to her traumatic head injuries, or was she lying for some reason?

Hard to say--though I'd imagine giving useful testimony after having the everliving daylights beaten out of me would be a bit challenging--but ultimately not important: the police couldn't really use her testimony, so they had even less reason to pursue the case.

So to play a horrible devils advocate here, if the guy used a condom instead of leaving semen in all his victims, he's still be preying on women, wouldn't he?

Yep. The DNA evidence probably wasn't essential to the case, but the investigator would never have found those other cases without it.
posted by valkyryn at 12:52 PM on November 19, 2010




Blonde what? I mean, can't we say 'woman'? I know the OP is picking up the Vanity Fair headline, but come on! She's a person not a hair color!


Well it's clearly a play on 50s/60s style hard-boiled detective stories. But with that said, the one thing that made me a bit uncertain about the story was the way the brutal rape and beating of a woman was glossed over. She became a plot point, in a very interesting plot, but I can't help but feel like her actual suffering was fairly irrelevant to a "daring men do clever things!" story.

Regardless? Fascinating story.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:55 PM on November 19, 2010 [16 favorites]


mathowie, I wondered that too especially considering what the one victim said about biting him. I wonder if they collected DNA from the victims' teeth and/or fingernails and that didn't make the article.
posted by pointystick at 12:56 PM on November 19, 2010


Good on the PI, but boo for the police dept. I mean, it's great that the PI did all that work, but it was not, you know, something only a superhuman could accomplish - it was pretty basic stuff, watch the freekin' footage and eliminate suspects. I find it very disturbing that the cops couldn't do this - whether because they are massively incompetent or under-financed. Either way is disturbing. But I guess we pay less in taxes /hamburger/.
posted by VikingSword at 12:59 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


What makes this story is the suitcase thing. Without it, it's kind of just 'let's track down the big black guy on the security camera.'
posted by empath at 1:00 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I link to this fact sheet all the time when it comes to rape statistics, but the last few pages (which summarize decades of research on serial rapists) are equally as chilling
These undetected rapists:
• are extremely adept at identifying “likely” victims, and testing prospective victims’ boundaries;
• plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack, and to isolate them physically;
• use “instrumental” not gratuitous violence; they exhibit strong impulse control and use only as much violence as is needed to terrify and coerce their victims into submission;
• use psychological weapons – power, control, manipulation, and threats – backed up by physical force, and almost never resort to weapons such as knives or guns;
• use alcohol deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack, or completely unconscious.
posted by muddgirl at 1:02 PM on November 19, 2010 [17 favorites]


Mark Bowden is a great journalist.
posted by flippant at 1:03 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


are extremely adept at identifying “likely” victims, and testing prospective victims’ boundaries;

Whenever I think about serial violators of any sort of law, I'm always amazed how they continually get to do whatever horrible act they like to do without detection. Honestly, how on earth do they find their victims so regularly and easily?

Did this guy prowl the streets nightly looking for drunk women to pick up in each new town he works? Did he hang out at hotels between 2-4am looking for someone coming home drunk? So many of the stories of his victim sound like chance encounters and he seems like a normal person at work and stuff, I wonder how much of his encounters were really chance or if he was basically trying to find someone every night and only finding someone that fit the bill once every six months or so? Is that part of the "game" of horrible crimes, that you strike out 249 times out of 250, but that one time when everything goes right it makes all the risk worth it?
posted by mathowie at 1:12 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


That was a riveting read, that detective is my new hero. He stayed on this and caught a serial rapist who probably had many, many more hits under his belt. The connection he made to the job type and the m.o. and then tracking the perp down - amazing.

I cringed at the point in the story where she got in an elevator alone with a strange man at 3 am... nix, nix, nix!
posted by madamjujujive at 1:15 PM on November 19, 2010


Also, I loved this bit of detective work:
Why would a man haul his luggage out of an airport hotel early in the morning, when he was not checking out, and then return to his room within the hour without it? That question, coupled with Brennan’s careful process of elimination, led him to the conclusion that the victim had been taken out of the hotel inside the big man’s suitcase.

But it seemed too small. It looked to be about the size that air travelers can fit into overhead compartments. But the man himself was so big, perhaps the size of the bag was an illusion. Brennan studied the video as the man exited the elevator and also as he left the hotel, then measured the doorways of both. When he matched visible reference points in the video—the number of tiles to each side of the bag as it was wheeled out the front door, and the height of a bar that ran around the inside of the elevator—he was able to get a close approximation of the suitcase’s actual size. He obtained one that fit those measurements, which was larger than the bag on the video had appeared to be, and invited a flexible young woman whose proportions matched the victim’s to curl up inside it. She fit.
Talk about doing your homework! How many others would have just gone by what their eyes said, "That's too small," and looked elsewhere or called it quits?
posted by nomadicink at 1:16 PM on November 19, 2010 [15 favorites]


Honestly, how on earth do they find their victims so regularly and easily?

They're natural hunters of a certain type of prey. They know what to look for.
posted by nomadicink at 1:18 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Psychopaths pick their victims based on a slew nonverbal cues.
posted by giraffe at 1:19 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Holy shit this is some nightmarish stuff.
posted by domo at 1:22 PM on November 19, 2010


What makes this story is the suitcase thing. Without it, it's kind of just 'let's track down the big black guy on the security camera.'

Well, yeah, but also the big black guy on the security camera wouldn't have gotten any scrutiny if it hadn't been for the suitcase thing-- no one would have bothered to track him down.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:23 PM on November 19, 2010


Good article. Compelling. and ha ha enjoy jail, you rapist s.o.b.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:26 PM on November 19, 2010


The rather depressing upshot of all this is that, as much we may hate the idea of "blaming the victim," people who are on the receiving end of crime often do mark themselves out, if only subliminally.
Fuckin' Psychology Today... could you better exemplify the trend towards terrible pop science journalism??
posted by muddgirl at 1:28 PM on November 19, 2010 [12 favorites]


That was a fine, fine read. As someone who loves to peruse Max Alan Collins, Donald E. Westlake, et al, it's wonderful to see that, in real life, some people really are detectives! If it weren't for the wealth of verifiable facts in the case I would be tempted to call shenanigans on the whole story. If I were ever to write detective fiction, you can bet my P.I.'s name would have to be Brennan.
And I'd probably get sued! :)
posted by TDavis at 1:30 PM on November 19, 2010


Yep. The DNA evidence probably wasn't essential to the case,
Huh? Even with the DNA the article classified it as a weak case. The DNA made the whole thing.
posted by amethysts at 1:30 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one who feels sorry for this guy? He keeps hiring prostitutes, they keep getting beat up by mystery assailants, and then they turn around and finger him as the rapist! My, what horrible luck!

Good riddance to bad rubbish. Let's hope that DNA database starts picking off more and more of these guys.

And thanks for the post - I would have missed this otherwise.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:32 PM on November 19, 2010


Ken Brennan: tzadik for hire.

Mathowie: A serial rapist is a niche predator. Like all predators, to survive, he must know the ecosystem from which he draws his victims. His predatory habits are designed to maximize his chances of successful predation. And successful predation means not getting caught. . . and that is not something he leaves to chance. For every victim, a lot of time searching the midnight streets of Anytown, USA.

Jones was obviously a skilled and practiced sociopath, wholly devoid of conscience. Ken Brennan had the wit and experience to recognize the hallmarks of such a very twisted man on that surveillance footage. In a world where sociopaths seem to rule more and more these days, it is satisfying to read of a righteous man who had what it took to get a monster off the street
posted by rdone at 1:33 PM on November 19, 2010


Why would a man haul his luggage out of an airport hotel early in the morning, when he was not checking out, and then return to his room within the hour without it?

He went to Denny's for breakfast?

I was a hotel night auditor in a previous incarnation. People haul luggage out to cars at all hours when they have reservations for more nights. A former detective would know that, and as a former DEA agent, Brennan probably had done the same himself many times. He most likely examined everybody's luggage on the tapes. I think that quote was merely the writer punching up the story.
posted by Ardiril at 1:36 PM on November 19, 2010


I am wondering what his last employer knew, since they refused to give out information without a subpoena. Has anyone has considered suing them? I always wonder about alll the side stories, when reading something like this. I am sure there is a lot that is left out.
posted by annsunny at 1:36 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Psychopaths pick their victims based on a slew nonverbal cues.

This means that individuals that score higher for psychopathy are better at selecting victims.

How do you score higher for psychopathy, and how do they not game the tests? If this is objectively true, it seems like this ability to analyze people is just one more interesting evolutionary adaptive trait that maybe has been useful in some capacity or on someplace on the psychopathy spectrum. If you have just a touch of it, are you better at some job? Is the species stronger because of it, in some way?
posted by small_ruminant at 1:38 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The video link in the OP is really fantastic, as well, though Errol Morris should get a credit in there somewhere.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:44 PM on November 19, 2010


I was a hotel night auditor in a previous incarnation. People haul luggage out to cars at all hours when they have reservations for more nights.

Did a woman mysteriously make it past security cameras in all those other instances, particularly in the time frame she disappeared?
posted by nomadicink at 1:47 PM on November 19, 2010


I am wondering what his last employer knew, since they refused to give out information without a subpoena.

The last employer may not have known anything more than that Mike Jones was a current employee and was covering his ass against a privacy lawsuit from Jones. The writer wanted you to ask that question at that point in the story as it heightens the drama.
posted by Ardiril at 1:47 PM on November 19, 2010


Whoops. Lost my "of."

I was under the impression that real scientists stopped using the term "psychopath" in favor of terms that were actually in the DSM. So in my completely uninformed opinion, I'd take the article with a grain of salt.

It's really disturbing to me that people would be willing to write this off as not a big deal had the victim actually been a prostitute.
posted by giraffe at 1:47 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


That was a fine, fine read. As someone who loves to peruse Max Alan Collins, Donald E. Westlake, et al, it's wonderful to see that, in real life, some people really are detectives!

Agreed. This read like it was straight out of one of James W. Hall's "Thorn" books.
posted by dersins at 1:48 PM on November 19, 2010


nomadicink: As I wrote: "He most likely examined everybody's luggage on the tapes."
posted by Ardiril at 1:49 PM on November 19, 2010


Great story, thanks for posting. I'm also left wanting an explanation for the victims recollection of the assailant
posted by fatbaq at 1:50 PM on November 19, 2010


I am wondering what his last employer knew, since they refused to give out information without a subpoena.

He knew that some guy was asking about one of his employees. He could have been anything from a debt collector to a mob enforcer. You don't give out personal information without a subpoena.
posted by empath at 1:52 PM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


I briefly worked a hotel front desk myself a while back, and took a few night audit shifts. People really do come and go at all hours, fooling with luggage and packages and looking weird and sketchy, and we had some real kooks. But we also had cameras in the halls and not just on the ground floor, like I was saying upthread.
posted by Gator at 1:52 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I, too, was a little bothered by the rape being downplayed as plot point. But, after watching too many Law and Order:SVU episodes, I have to say I vastly prefer that to "rape in as much detail as possible to be used as a prurient point to keep you from turning the channel."

And as someone who once longed to be a private detective just like that (embarrassingly probably down to the body builder physique and ridiculous clothing), I definitely found the story fascinating. And it also makes me want to be in more situations where I can use, non-ironically, the phrase "I won't step on your dick."
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:55 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm also left wanting an explanation for the victims recollection of the assailant

I was robbed one night while working as a night auditor by, as the case turned out, two black guys and a hispanic with a heavy accent (the only one who spoke). To this day, I remember the incident as three white guys. Victims have horrible memories.
posted by Ardiril at 1:58 PM on November 19, 2010 [14 favorites]


Great story, thanks for posting. I'm also left wanting an explanation for the victims recollection of the assailant

It seems plausible that along with alcohol, he could have drugged her with any one of a number of things that would seriously fuck with your memory.
posted by peep at 1:59 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fascinating read. What do people make of this:

And one of the first things she asked for on waking was her lawyer. That was unusual.
posted by Dragonness at 2:01 PM on November 19, 2010


The biggest question I had while reading was just what, exactly, the initial police had in mind when they wondered if it was all an elaborate con? The idea was to rape a woman and beat her nearly to death - being careful of course not to kill her - have her miraculously found on the side of the road in some weeds, and then, when she came to, have her contact the skeezy mob lawyer in order to squeeze a couple thou out of the hotel management? Like - what?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 2:01 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Great story. Thanks for the link!
posted by brundlefly at 2:06 PM on November 19, 2010


And one of the first things she asked for on waking was her lawyer. That was unusual.

I figured it was because she was a foreigner and she'd had bad experiences with cops or CIS. Did they ever mention whether or not she was illegal?
posted by small_ruminant at 2:10 PM on November 19, 2010


Also, when it comes to the victim's memory, remember two things:

1) she was severely beaten around the head
2) English wasn't her first language.

It seems to me -- as a non-brain doctor, of course -- that a combination of those two things -- with alcohol/drugs involved -- could severely cloud things such that what was one black guy became three maybe Hispanic guys. I know that sounds weird, but I also (unfortunately) know how weird your brain can be once you lose consciousness.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:11 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, there's this:

When her lawyer soon after filed a lawsuit against the hotel, alleging negligence, going after potentially deep corporate pockets, the detectives thought something was fishy.

I can understand their suspicion in light of that. But it's also made very clear that "There was severe head trauma" in addition to the rest of her very severe injuries, which could explain her massive confusion. At that point in the article, I started to wonder if she was an illegal immigrant or had some other illegal activity of her own to cover up, hence the instinct to call her lawyer as soon as she woke, but who knows.

Sadly, the article makes it very clear that if he had not raped those other women and left his DNA behind, he'd have spent just those two years in Miami jail on lesser charges, in part because of what a terrible witness this Ukrainian woman was.
posted by Gator at 2:12 PM on November 19, 2010


"one of the first things she asked for"

This writer is good at stirring the imagination. Also, the cops probably had all sorts of conjecture with so little hard evidence.
posted by Ardiril at 2:15 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


As someone who watches CSI: Miami as a guilty pleasure, I enjoyed how much the article reveals that the show is a massive distortion of real life. On CSI: Miami they get results from CODIS almost instantly, not "several months later." They usually solve the cases in one day, not after months of dogged detective work. Figuring out who the bad guy's buddy was from glimpses of his shirt in the security cameras, though, that was straight outta Carusoville.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:17 PM on November 19, 2010


I'm surprised at how skeptical everyone was when Brennan wanted to go after the guy on the elavator. The process of elimination, the thing with bringing out the suitcase in the middle of the night and coming back without it later, the extra tug on the suitcase to get it over the gap;

I don't know, even though he turned out right, it seems a little like justifying a hunch. The girl could fit in the suitcase, therefore the fact that it was heavy proves she was in there. And the guy doesn't even look like he committed a crime in the footage, so he must be an experienced criminal.
posted by smackfu at 2:25 PM on November 19, 2010


The biggest question I had while reading was just what, exactly, the initial police had in mind when they wondered if it was all an elaborate con?

I remember a story on 60 Minutes in the early 90s about a scam involving Irish Travelers at Disney, a woman was beaten and claimed rape but the whole scenario had been faked. They had been careful to set up a series of facts that resulted in a huge settlement. Infighting resulted in the story coming out and some of the scammers did go to jail.
posted by InkaLomax at 2:28 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is there any way to read this on an iPhone?
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:43 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there any way to read this on an iPhone?

Works fine for me in Opera Mini on S60. Isn't Opera Mini available on iOS now?
posted by kmz at 2:59 PM on November 19, 2010


They kept mentioning how difficult it was to understand the Ukranian victim, her accent, her funny grammar, how she was such a bad witness etc. And I kept wondering through the whole story why was she not provided with an interpreter first in the hospital and later in court.

I'd like to think that my English is quite good but when I'm tired or even a little bit drunk, English gets pretty difficult pretty fast. I can't even imagine how it would be after an experience like this and with the brain injury and all the drugs the doctors were probably pumping into her. Even if she herself didn't ask for an interpreter, one should have been provided when it became obvious that she needed one. Just because someone can speak English doesn't mean it's a good idea in situations like these, where accurate communication is important.
posted by severiina at 3:05 PM on November 19, 2010 [18 favorites]


I remember a story on 60 Minutes in the early 90s about a scam involving Irish Travelers at Disney, a woman was beaten and claimed rape but the whole scenario had been faked. They had been careful to set up a series of facts that resulted in a huge settlement. Infighting resulted in the story coming out and some of the scammers did go to jail.

That's definitely interesting, but it also seems like the police in this case were able to recognize pretty quickly that yes, the woman was raped, and yes, she was beaten to within an inch of her life. Pretty tough to fake a busted eye socket.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 3:15 PM on November 19, 2010


I just want to chip in to say excellent story too.

I found it interesting that the perp willingly gave his DNA. I suspect he was trapped there; his act required him to be cooperative and pleasant, and having built that persona up he would have destroyed it by denying the request. It's interesting that he didn't run at the first opportunity after that. He must have been so confident in his powers of persuasion that he really felt invincible.

The term "psychopath" went out of vogue in the 19th century because it got associated with serial murderers, and the replacement term "sociopath" was more recently deprecated for the same reason. The DSM 3 and 4 use "antisocial personality disorder." Most of them aren't actually serial killers, but they are all dangerous. I've had four as close friends (or maybe I should make that "friends") over the years, and currently work (reluctantly) with another. It must be some kind of weird magnetic attraction; supposedly they only comprise 2% of the general population, but more like 40% of prison inmates.

ASPD's can lie so smoothly it is amazing, even when you know they are doing it, even when they know you know they are doing it. They can feign emotion much more easily and effectively than normal people, who get distracted by actually feeling emotions, can. And they can be reliable and trustworthy for years and years and then, without warning, for some ridiculously insignificant reason decide to cut you open to see what color your blood is.
posted by localroger at 3:22 PM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yeah, this is being mentioned tangentially, but I've been trying to frame this more explicitly without sounding wierd. Here goes.

It's fucking hard to be a sexual assault victim in many US courts. Add to this the fact that she doesn't speak very good English, had an understandably unreliable memory, and could easily and "plausibly" be accused of prostitution... well, yes. Difficult. So I think this article was intentionally being a bit on-the-nose about the whole "prostitutes deserve what they get" implication, but also it was disturbing to see it so explicitly phrased, even with dark humor.

I also sort of want to talk about the race and weight of the perpetrator, as well as what I presume is his social status and how these three things actually worked against his remaining undetected, and how many serial rapists have the advantage of being white males of a particular social/economic class. But it's a difficult conversation to have based on just one (good) article.

In other words, Mark Bowden is apparently a hell of a writer.
posted by muddgirl at 3:25 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


many serial rapists have the advantage of being white males of a particular social/economic class

That's interesting, I wasn't aware that there was a dominant demographic/economic group of serial rapists. Not being flippant, it's just genuinely interesting. Does data back that up?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 3:27 PM on November 19, 2010


>Fascinating read. What do people make of this:

"And one of the first things she asked for on waking was her lawyer. That was unusual".


Most victims of a crime, when being interviewed by the police, don't instinctively ask for counsel. Most of the people who do instinctively ask for a lawyer probably have something to hide. Which is a shame, because everyone should instinctively ask for a lawyer, because talking to the cops is a terrible idea, even if you're the victim.
posted by valkyryn at 3:28 PM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


And also, I assume you mean in the US. Obviously a majority of serial rapists in, say, Egypt aren't going to be white males.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 3:29 PM on November 19, 2010


• use alcohol deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack, or completely unconscious.

muddgirl, what's most chilling about that is when you throw alcohol into the mix, the case goes all to hell. If the victim has been drinking, establishing that whatever happened was non-consensual can be very difficult in the absence of a severe beating or other non-verbal evidence. People do stupid things when they drink too much, and juries know this, so reasonable doubt is that much easier to instill.
posted by valkyryn at 3:30 PM on November 19, 2010


Blonde what? I mean, can't we say 'woman'? I know the OP is picking up the Vanity Fair headline, but come on! She's a person not a hair color!

I thought this was because most of his victims were blondes - part of his M.O.

Great read - and heartening to hear of a win for the good guys.
posted by helmutdog at 3:43 PM on November 19, 2010


What seems funny to me is that she's Ukrainian. Wouldn't she be able to tell a difference between "Hispanic" and "Russian" accents...?
posted by foxhat10 at 3:57 PM on November 19, 2010


The gut reaction to the picture at the top of the story, along with a sequence of events that is essentially "Miami cops convict black man of raping white woman who said she was attacked by multiple white and hispanic guys", is not exactly a positive one.

Seems to have worked out okay this time, for once.

Fantastic, fascinating story. Fingers crossed for a sequel wherein Mike Jones is murdered in prison.

Um, no.
posted by kafziel at 3:58 PM on November 19, 2010


actually I'd expect many foreigners distrust police more then your average american, so asking for a lawyer does make some sense.
posted by gryftir at 4:00 PM on November 19, 2010


because talking to the cops is a terrible idea, even if you're the victim.

If you are a victim, especially of sexual assault, talking to the cops is a good idea. If you come from a world that can afford a spokesman for every encounter, sure, why not, but it isn't a great message to say that victims shouldn't talk to cops. If you are sexually assaulted and have a house full of dope, sure call a lawyer first, but most people know if they have some level of criminal involvement and don't require a lawyer to vet every decision for them.
posted by InkaLomax at 4:03 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wouldn't she be able to tell a difference between "Hispanic" and "Russian" accents...?

She said Romanian, not Russian.
posted by elizardbits at 4:03 PM on November 19, 2010


BTW, noting the importance of DNA and how long the results took - this legislation is pending now and should be supported, imo - New SAFER Act Will Help End DNA Backlog and Track and Improve Use of DNA Evidence in Rape Cases - here's more on it from TPM today: Wrestler Mick Foley Hits The Hill For Rape Kit Legislation.

This might be something to call or write your congress critter about. The article in this fpp is a good example of how using DNA kits more consistently and reducing the backlog could be so useful in the fight to identify and remove serial rapists from circulation. Plus, it might also help to protect those who are wrongfully accused.
posted by madamjujujive at 4:04 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


No one else was pleased that the detective's name was, "Footeman?"
posted by digitalprimate at 4:29 PM on November 19, 2010


I read this story a few days ago and was astonished in a good way that they got the guy.

Also, the woman asking for her lawyer made sense to me. If she wasn't a US citizen, lawyering up against the US government was probably reflexive. And if she were accused of a crime, it could mess up her immigration status. That was my take on it, anyhow.
posted by immlass at 4:33 PM on November 19, 2010


Also, the woman asking for her lawyer made sense to me. If she wasn't a US citizen, lawyering up against the US government was probably reflexive. And if she were accused of a crime, it could mess up her immigration status. That was my take on it, anyhow.

And also, maybe the cruise ship she works for had educated their international employees as to steps to take when arrested/questioned by law enforcement. It's definitely one part of the story that Bowden leaves a bit ambiguous.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:41 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


And if she hadn't sued the hotel, the attacker would likely still be a free man. It's bizarre that she inadvertently enlisted such a dedicated investigator on her behalf.
posted by topynate at 5:12 PM on November 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


The woman is the most intriguing aspect of this story. I imagine there is a double stigma to being raped by a black man, that might make lying about it a wise strategy if you trying to win over a jury.

On the one hand racism could make an interracially raped woman less sympathetic to a jury. This could range from simple disgust (the woman has become "impure") to suspicion or anger that she was interacting or fooling around with a black man.

On the other hand "anti-racism" also carries its own cloud of suspicions and resentments. e.g. "another white woman lying about black victimization". A certain brand of liberal tends to shoot the messenger when forced to consider any sort of negative characterization of a minority coming from a white.

It's possible this particular woman was less concerned about the abstract (and often impractical) notion of "justice", or the more primal desire for retribution, and just wanted to turn a terrible experience into whatever minor gain she could get out of it. In this case a successful 300k lawsuit against the hotel.

I can't say I'm entirely unsympathetic to this strategy. If I could choose between "bringing an evil doer to justice" or 1 million dollars, I think the latter looks like it would bring me more happiness.
posted by dgaicun at 5:39 PM on November 19, 2010


Also A) witness/victim memories are notoriously unreliable (and yet, sadly, are the strongest form of evidence in court), and B) It was traumatic and she also suffered a lot of injury to the head. Both can wipe out or warp memories (For example that chimp attack lady last year had no memory of the incident whatever).

One or both might be a sufficient explanation of her response.
posted by dgaicun at 5:50 PM on November 19, 2010


"Psychopathy" is not much used in psychiatry, but it is still very much a part of forensics. The Hare psychopathy checklist is still in common use. Most forensic psychiatric reports I read have PCL-R (or similar 'diagnostic' test) scores.
posted by birdsquared at 7:52 PM on November 19, 2010


The Coral Cache version works for me on the iPhone.
posted by Pronoiac at 7:55 PM on November 19, 2010


I don't know, even though he turned out right, it seems a little like justifying a hunch. The girl could fit in the suitcase, therefore the fact that it was heavy proves she was in there. And the guy doesn't even look like he committed a crime in the footage, so he must be an experienced criminal.--smackfu

There's the classic detective meme--the locked room. A dead person is discovered in a locked room. How did the person die? How could it have been murder?

This is similar. How could she have left the room?

This wasn't a hunch. It was just about the only possible way she could have left the hotel without being captured by the camera. Yes, it crossed my mind that maybe she was wearing a black man body suit.

I wouldn't last long as a detective.
posted by eye of newt at 9:35 PM on November 19, 2010


because talking to the cops is a terrible idea, even if you're the victim.

so back 30 years ago, when i was a night auditor at a motel, and two guys came in with guns during shift change, shoved a guest against the wall, took his wallet, and all the money out of the cash register, you're suggesting that i shouldn't have talked to the cops about it?

really?

the cops were quite sympathetic and professional and quite determined to get the people who had done this, which they did - by the way, they'd stolen the car 15 minutes before - and the unfortunate owner had been in the trunk of her own car while they were robbing us

but you think i shouldn't have talked to them? just what kind of trouble do you think i was going to get into by doing so?

for god's sake, why the hell wouldn't i want to talk to the cops about a pair of bastards who were running around doing shit like this? i wasn't just robbed, i could have been fucking killed

why wouldn't i talk about that to the cops?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:36 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


because talking to the cops is a terrible idea, even if you're the victim.

There was a post a while back where this criminal defense professor advocated that. I agree that it is really bad advice for victims.

My guess is that he had too many clients who were probably so guilty of so many things that they definitely shouldn't talk to the police under any circumstances since they'd were bound to slip something out that would cause put them away for years.
posted by eye of newt at 9:56 PM on November 19, 2010


On the "asking for a lawyer" thing: I know a Swedish woman who described herself to me as an "attorney" when we met. Turned out she was a social worker. She eventually went to work for SAS, the Swedish airline, and not in a legal capacity.

The term "attorney" or "lawyer" may not have a direct translation from a foreign language to English. Compound that by the fact that there may not be precise analogues of the profession from country to country, either. Getting lawyer when you are in trouble in a foreign country is probably good idea, regardless of whether you are a suspect or a victim. You never know when the guy who raped and beat you is the local district attorney's son, and you don't want to find out by suddenly being deported, or worse.
posted by Xoebe at 10:40 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, the woman asking for her lawyer made sense to me.

I agree. The author refers to the lawyer as "her lawyer" therefore I would think it was probably whoever she dealt with for her workers comp claim against the cruise ship line. That person might have been one of the only people she knew in the US and almost certainly the only authority figure she knew. And able to provide translation services. Of course she asked to see them, it doesn't seem suspicious to me at all.

The lawsuit was probably to pay her medical bills. I doubt she walked away with much change from that $300K if she was life-flighted to a trauma unit and spent any time there at all.

Metafilter: so suspicious.
posted by fshgrl at 10:57 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Perhaps she meant "advocate".
posted by Ardiril at 11:09 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


So to play a horrible devils advocate here, if the guy used a condom instead of leaving semen in all his victims, he's still be preying on women, wouldn't he?

Or if Mike "rapist" Jones have simply said, "No subpoena, no cheek swab," or, "I'm not making any statements, you can talk to my lawyer," or "I'm sorry about what happened to that woman, but I don't remember much from when I was working in Miami."

Of all the obstacles the PI surpassed, it's amazing to hear that the serial rapist was so eager to keep the bloodhounds on his trail.
posted by peeedro at 11:36 PM on November 19, 2010


Why, if she speaks Ukrainian, is she referred to as Russian?

Was she in fact Russian or Ukrainian? The two are not interchangeable (although the USSR tried to make it different when they were around).
posted by Dagobert at 11:55 PM on November 19, 2010


iPhone people: copy the URL and launch Instapaper. It'll offer to grab the article for you.
posted by Lazlo at 12:49 AM on November 20, 2010


I wouldn't get too hung up on minor details about the victim. The author most likely altered them to protect the victim's identity.
posted by ryanrs at 1:53 AM on November 20, 2010


I can't think of any time I've ever heard of a guy referred to by his hair color alone. We might say the dark-haired guy, the bald guy, the blond-haired guy.

Gingers.
posted by Etrigan at 8:14 AM on November 20, 2010


This was a very interesting article, and I'm so glad they were able to catch the guy.

However, I'm disappointed in one way: I went into it thinking it was about an honest-to-goodness hotel detective, and I was excited at the prospect of discovering that hotel detectives actually exist.
posted by meese at 8:25 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was excited at the prospect of discovering that hotel detectives actually exist.

I know of one guy who used to be, but he (puts on sunglasses) checked out years ago.

YOOOOOOOOW!!!!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:28 AM on November 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Or if Mike "rapist" Jones have simply said, "No subpoena, no cheek swab," or, "I'm not making any statements, you can talk to my lawyer," or "I'm sorry about what happened to that woman, but I don't remember much from when I was working in Miami."

There are ways to collect a suspect's DNA without his cooperation. There was one case here in Canada when undercover police tailed a suspect, retrieved a soda can he had discarded, and got a DNA match from that. I'm sure the legality of doing this in the States is not so different from here.

Did anyone else notice that the victim's face was not obscured in the video on Vanity Fair's site?
posted by pcameron at 11:09 AM on November 20, 2010


I remember trying to learn nationalities in Chinese. When trying to speak in a language that isnt your native one, it can be hard to remember the different terms. And native speakers get frustrated and trying to correct/finish your sentences for you guessing at what you are trying to say, often without even noticing they are doing it. And you agree with them because it sounded right and you were under pressure and stressed. A week or month later and they ask you the same questions and you give different answers because you still don't remember all the vocabulary. Attorney/social worker/translator same thing.
posted by HMSSM at 1:18 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Simply fascinating. So great to see a smart man use his brain to solve a very difficult case and find some justice for the past and inevitable future victims.

Giraffe, thanks for the link. As someone who used to prosecute sexual offense cases, this part made me saddest, because it was familiar:

And what was it about these people that made them seem vulnerable? A later study found that the men were picking up on whole suite of nonverbal cues, including the length of their stride, how they shifted their weight, and how high they lifted their feet. Taken together, these cues gave the psychopathic men a rough gauge of how confident their potential victims were. Body language that implies a lack of confidence --- read: socially submissive --- includes lack of eye contact, fidgeting of the hands and feet, and the avoidance of large gestures when shifting posture.

The researchers' findings confirmed my own suspicions regarding the dubious fellow I mentioned above. The women who wound up on the receiving end of his attentions were individuals who, in their own description, were not very worldly, experienced, or outgoing. They were psychologically vulnerable and hence ill-equipped to either resist this fellow's predations or to deal with them emotionally after they had occurred. In the aftermath, they are so traumatized that even speaking about their experiences is extremely painful. And so the psychopath continues on his way.


Here is a recent example of this phenomenon, involving an adult survivor of child abuse.

And lastly, again as someone who used to prosecute sexual assault (and domestic violence): I hope to heck most victims do talk to law enforcement without asking for a lawyer. It is critical for the police to talk to the victim of a violent crime as soon as possible, when memory is still fresh, or the chances of catching the perpetrator become even smaller.
posted by bearwife at 2:17 PM on November 20, 2010


Is it weird that one of the big takeaways for me was that hotels can monitor your entering and leaving your room through your electronic key card? Not that it's surprising in hindsight—and hey, if it helps catch rapists, great—but it makes me nostalgic for the days of a good old-fashioned metal key.
posted by stargell at 4:24 PM on November 20, 2010


Man, Mark Bowden is an effective writer.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:33 PM on November 20, 2010


pyramid termite:but you think i shouldn't have talked to them? just what kind of trouble do you think i was going to get into by doing so?

Ask a few leading questions, trip you up in your words, a bit of the old good cop/bad cop. Before you know it, they've got you fingered as an accessory to an inside job. A truly skilled interrogator can have you confessing to being the Queen of England.
posted by dr_dank at 7:32 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


except, dr_dank, they never tried to do so - obviously, i was not just the victim of a robbery, but of incredibly shoddy police work, too - even though they managed to catch the robbers within an hour

but you are much cleverer than they - it WAS the queen of england's car they used and she WAS locked in the trunk and it was really the crown jewels they took from the register and not a hundred or so in cash - i've been living off the proceeds ever since and was even shacking up with the queen until i had princess di fake that car accident and shacked up with her instead

but your incisive questioning has forced me to admit the truth and i am ready to pay my debt to society - i can only hope that the court will be merciful towards me and not give me the death penalty for my heinous crimes

oh, go on with you already
posted by pyramid termite at 9:06 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


pyramid termite, your mockery of dr_dank is inappropriate. Your encounter with the police may have gone okay, but his warning is also very valid. A lot of it depends on what kind of cop you are talking to and the first impression they will form of you. And you have to consider that cops can and do lie during interviews, a phenomenon I've been unfortunate enoough to experience firsthand.

Obviously, if you are the actual victim of a crime or if you have information you'd like them to have, you will have to interact with the police, and by insisting on your right to a lawyer you may trigger the very witch hunt you'd rather avoid. What is important then is that you remain aware of the danger, and at the first sign that suspicion is being cast in your direction shut up and get the lawyer.

The blanket advice, "don't talk to the police, ever" is a bit of an extreme in the direction of keeping yourself safe from police misconduct, but I found it interesting that in one of the videos a prosecutor who was brought in to provide the balancing opinion basically agreed with the advice.

In your case I probably would have done as you did, right up until the point any questions were directed about my own activities outside the immediate locality and timeframe of the crime. As soon as the questioning wandered beyond the immediate events, though, I'd have backed up and said "you know, I'm getting the sense I should have a lawyer here just in case."

Furthermore, and these are absolutes: posted by localroger at 5:31 AM on November 21, 2010 [10 favorites]


Interesting back-story about the rapist, from an April 2006 article in the Frederick News-Post.

Before working in concessions, he worked for a minor league baseball team for 12 years.

He was in the New Orleans Superdome during Hurricane Katrina, working as a concession manager for Centerplate. He stayed in the suite, because he was part of the emergency team. "He got little sleep, partly because he was afraid."

After that, Centerplate moved him to several locations. "The last one was in Colorado, but he didn't like it because it was too cold." He then went to work for Ovations Food Service as the general manager at Harry Grove Stadium.
posted by Houstonian at 7:14 AM on November 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


Is there any way to read this on an iPhone?

I keep handy a browser that I can change the user agent on for situations such as this (site insisting on only showing the mobile version, etc.) I use iCab, which seemed the best of the alternatives at the time, but there might be better ones now. I've got no complaints with iCab, though. Works great on my 3G, crashes occasionally due to memory constraints apparently.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 8:55 AM on November 21, 2010


Wow, Houstonian, fantastic find!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:03 AM on November 21, 2010


Interesting article. This is a terrific post; thanks.
posted by theora55 at 11:01 AM on November 21, 2010


Whoops, didn't see your question, Arsinio!

That's interesting, I wasn't aware that there was a dominant demographic/economic group of serial rapists. Not being flippant, it's just genuinely interesting. Does data back that up?

I didn't mean to imply that there was a dominant demograophic/economic group for serial rapists. Just the rather logical fact that white males who are serial rapists may have an easier time finding victims and avoiding exposure than black serial rapists, or those of a lower economic class.

For example, middle and upper-class rapists have a great "hunting ground" that lower-class rapists may not have access to - college. They also have family and community resources may protect them from litigation.
posted by muddgirl at 3:33 PM on November 21, 2010


Great story, happy for his success. But I must spend too much time around people trying to get media coverage for various issues, because I kept thinking, "wow what a shill piece for Brennan. man this guy can stick his entire marketing budget right into his savings account."
posted by salvia at 6:08 PM on November 21, 2010


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