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Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Rogue Act of Insanity: Jacoby Roth and the Mad River Hospital Radiation Overdose

sᴇᴄᴏɴᴅ ᴘᴏsᴛ ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ ʀᴀᴅɪᴀᴛɪᴏɴ sᴇʀɪᴇs.

 “Well, that radiation thing was sort of creepy,” you might say, “but Brazil is far away.  And I won’t be scavenging any scrap metal from a junkyard.  And I’m pretty sure that if a bunch of people were rubbing some glowing shit on their skin, I would ask some questions about it first.”

Such as, "What drugs are you on?" and "Can I have some?"

“So I’m feeling pretty safe, at least on the being-exposed-to-unnecessarily-dangerous-amounts-of-radiation front.” 


Enter Jacoby Roth, a happy two-and-a-half-year old boy who lives in Arcata, California, a small town 290 miles north of San Francisco.  On January 23, 2008, Jacoby’s parents, Carrie and Padre, took him to the ER at Mad River Community Hospital after he complained of neck pain after he fell out of his bed the night before.  A CT scan was ordered to check Jacoby’s cervical spine. 

Normally, the actual CT scan only lasts for a couple of minutes, with around 25 pictures being taken.

Jacoby’s test only ended after Padre Roth became concerned that it was taking too long, and yelled at the technician to stop the machine.  For inexplicable reasons, Jacoby had been scanned 151 times in the same area, and the test had taken 68 minutes.

It was not immediately clear what had occurred; but within a few hours, Jacoby’s face began turning red.  His parents insisted that pictures be taken.

"There were red marks all the way around his head, like a severe sunburn," said the attorney for the Roths, Don L. Stockett.  Later, state investigators would record that the pictures showed “a clear line” on Jacoby’s face, “consistent with the anatomical region that received the excessive radiation.”   The line extends “from the infraorbital ridge backward through the ear and nape of the neck; a similar line extends from the infraorbital ridge through the ear on the right side.”

Just how much radiation the toddler was exposed to is difficult to say.

 A report by the hospital's medical physicist calculated that the boy's absorbed radiation dose was 2.8 Gy (2,800 mSv) and possibly as high as 11 Gy (11,000 mSv). The dose the boy received compares to a range of 1.5-4.0 mSv for a normal pediatric CT study of the entire spine, according to pediatric imaging experts.

Using relevant material from the article "Estimated Risks of Radiation-Induced Fatal Cancer from Pediatric CT," published in the American Journal of Roentgenology (February 2001, Vol. 176:2, pp. 289-296), a report by the hospital's medical physicist concluded the child had a lifetime increased risk of a fatal cancer of 39%.

What the fuck?

It’s difficult to say why this happened.

This is Raven Knickerbocker, the technician in question.  

Scanner records show an average interval of 25 seconds between the 151 scans, which started at 8:29 a.m. on January 23, 2008, and ended at 9:37 a.m. The CT scanner used was a single-slice Picker PQ-5000 manufactured in 1998, which needed about 25 seconds for the tubes to cool between scans. It was replaced a month after the incident, but hospital officials said the replacement had been planned long before and was unrelated.

To top it all off, the scans taken by Knickberbocker were blurry and couldn’t be used.

 A second CT scan by radiologic technologist Susan Sampson took only two minutes and included 25 axial slices. Sampson remembered being "a little shocked" when she heard that Knickerbocker had done 151 scans in the same area at the base of the boy's skull. "That's a lot more time than it usually takes for an exam," she testified, estimating it should have taken less than 10 minutes.

 Knickerbocker was certified was a licensed radiological technologist in December of 2000.  She left the hospital two weeks after this incident, and her state license was suspended on September 30th by the California Department of Public Health, which was investigating the incident at the time this article was published. 

Knickerbocker does not have much to say for herself.

Ms. Knickerbocker said in an interview that she did not remember pushing the scan button 151 times. “I pushed the button like four to six times,” she said. “It’s frustrating because I don’t know what happened. I never intended it to happen.”

She said the machine must have malfunctioned. “I’ve been a technologist for more than 10 years,” she said. “Never had any kind of problems, never been written up.”

As the mother of a young daughter, Ms. Knickerbocker said she could understand what the Roth family was going through. “I’m human and if I did make an error, I’d be the first to admit it,” she said. “And I’m not afraid to ask for help when I need it. And unfortunately, that day, the help wasn’t there.”

According to state records, Ms. Knickerbocker told investigators that after suspecting the machine was malfunctioning, she summoned help but none came.

A state investigator concluded that even if the machine had malfunctioned, she should have stopped the test.

Knickerbocker has actually changed her story several times.

Bruce Fleck, the hospital's former radiology manager, testified that Knickerbocker subsequently gave many explanations for the incident, such as the boy's parents distracted her, the scanning table wouldn't move incrementally, and the boy's father was leaning on the table. But he noted that an experienced operator like Knickerbocker should have known to stop after a couple of images if the scanner wasn't operating properly.

When asked if the scanner could somehow take images automatically, he replied that the images showed the machine was in manual axial mode. "She had to hit the button each time," Fleck observed.
He also noted that Sampson had no problems when she used the machine. It was checked later and no malfunctions were found.

Knickerbocker could not provide a "valid explanation" of why she took 151 images of the same location, Fleck said. "I think it was just a rogue act of insanity," he told a stunned court.
Interestingly,a commenter on this story writes,
I know this family...the tech was talking incessantly while dosing this baby.

Since then, thankfully, Jacoby has shown no ill effects.  "He bounces around like a normal two-year-old," Don Stockett, the Roth’s attorney, said. "You wouldn't know anything was wrong with him at all."

A cytogeneticist who analyzed the boy's blood found substantial chromosomal damage, and one radiation expert predicts that Jacoby will develop cataracts in three to five years.  But no one really knows if Jacoby will suffer any ill effects – or what those effects will be.  No one is sure if Jacoby will develop cancer, because medical literature on radiation-induced cancers in children only looks at full-body exposures, such as those suffered at Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  This overdose was focused only in one specific area.

I think this quote sums up the entire situation perfectly:

“The problem with this case is that the parents are subjected to worry for the rest of their lives,” Mr. Stockett said. “They’re always going to have to worry for years — forever — because every time the child sniffles they instantly start thinking maybe this is the start of something really bad.”

Knickerbocker was fired shortly after the incident, and the Roths rightfully filed suit against her.   A settlement was reached, but the terms were kept secret. The hospital was fined $25,000 for this case, but those fines were dismissed on appeal, possibly because the California authorities found that this instance was due to operator error, not any negligence by the hospital itself.

Rogue act of insanity, indeed.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Trial of the Century: the kidnapping of Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr.

ᴛʜᴇ ғɪʀsᴛ ᴘᴏsᴛ ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ ʟɪɴᴅʙᴇʀɢʜ ᴛʀɪᴀʟ sᴇʀɪᴇs. ᴄᴜʀʀᴇɴᴛʟʏ ʀᴇsᴇᴀʀᴄʜɪɴɢ: ɪᴛᴇᴍs ᴛʜᴀᴛ ᴀʀᴇ ᴄᴜʀʀᴇɴᴛʟʏ ʙᴇɪɴɢ ʀᴇsᴇᴀʀᴄʜᴇᴅ ᴍᴀʏ ʙᴇ ᴜᴘᴅᴀᴛᴇᴅ ᴘᴇʀɪᴏᴅɪᴄᴀʟʟʏ. 

Lucky Lindy
Charles A. Lindbergh, or “Lucky Lindy,” rose to fame as an aviator in the 1920s after he completed the first ever solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic. Lindbergh was an A-list celebrity in the early ‘30s, helping to popularize aviation for pleasure, commerce, and mail. He was married to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, American royalty whose father was, at different times, a partner in JP Morgan, US Ambassador to Mexico, and a US Senator from New Jersey. They wed in 1929, and shortly thereafter, in June of 1930, they had a son - Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr.
The famous young couple seemed to have an idyll life. Charles was a happy, healthy baby with a head of bright blonde curly hair. When you think of the media surrounding Prince William and Kate and their children - that’s how the Lindbergh family was worshiped. Everyone knew about them, and they seemed to live in this perfect dream world.

The Kidnapping
Tragedy struck on March 1, 1932. The Lindberghs lived in Highfields, an estate in East Amwell, NJ. This part of Jersey is very rural, even today. It’s surrounded by twisty roads that lead in and out of thick deciduous woods and fields of corn and other crops.
Charles Jr.’s nurse, Betty Gow, put the baby in his crib at around 8pm. Charles’ room was on the second floor of the house, and Gow went back downstairs. If I recall correctly, both Anne and Charles were downstairs in the library, until Anne went to take her bath.
At around 9:30pm, Charles Lindbergh Sr heard a loud noise; he thought a slot had fallen out of a crate in the kitchen. Betty Gow returned to the baby’s room, only to discover that he was not in his crib. Thinking he might be with his mother, she went to inquire with Mrs. Lindbergh, who was just then getting out of her bath. She did not have her son.
Gow then ran downstairs to the library where Mr. Lindbergh was reading. Charles immediately went to examine his son’s room, finding the crib empty as well. Charles discovered a handwritten note placed on the windowsill above the radiator:
Dear Sir!
Have 50000$ redy 25000$ in 20$ bills 15000$ in 10$ bills and 10000$ in 5$ bills After 2-4 days we will inform you were to deliver the Mony.
We warn you for making anyding public or for notify the Police The child is in gut care. Indication for all letters are singnature and three holes.
Lindbergh rushed outside with a firearm to search for the intruders, and the police were summoned. They arrived in about twenty minutes - again, this is pretty rural. The Hopewell Police arrived and after the initial report, the case was turned over to the New Jersey State Police.
After searching the yard, police discovered a ladder in two pieces hidden in bushes and underbrush near the home. The two sections of the ladder fit together, however, the center slat was broken, as if it had snapped during ascent or descent.
Other forensic evidence was found at the scene of the crime:
  • Footprints were found beneath Charles Jr’s second-story window, though they were “impossible to measure.”
  • Traces of mud were found on the floor of the nursery
  • A tire print was discovered in the mud later on that night -No bloodstains or adult fingerprints were found in the nursery. Charles Jr.’s fingerprints were found on the lower half of the nursery.
The Notes
This case was a huge, huge deal. You think we have media circuses today? Everyone was informed about the Lindgergh case. President Herbert Hoover declared he would “move heaven and earth” to find the baby Lindbergh. Al Capone and other crime bosses offered help from prison (in exchange for favors or release, of course). Lindbergh took charge of the investigation, and Anne was swept up in the hubub, devastated.
New Jersey offered $25,000 for tips leading to the recovery of the baby. The Lindberghs offered $50,000 additional of their own money. The infamous WANTED poster
A second ransom note was received on March 6, 1932, postmarked from Brooklyn:
Dear Sir. We have warned you note to make anything public also notify the police now you have to take consequences- means we will have to hold the baby until everything is quite. We can note make any appointments just now. We know very well what it means to us. It is realy necessary to make a world affair out of this, or to get your baby back as soon as possible to settle those affair in a quick way will be better for both- don't be afraid about the baby- keeping care of us day and night. We also will feed him acording to the diet.
We are interested to send him back in gut health. And ransom was made aus for 50000$ but now we have to take another person to it and probably have to keep the baby for a longer time as we expected. So the amound will be 70000 20000 in 50$ bills 25000$ in 20$ bill 15000$ in 10$ bills and 10000 in 5$ bills Don't mark any bills or take them from one serial nomer. We will form you latter were to deliver the mony. But we will note do so until the Police is out of the cace and the pappers are quite. The kidnapping we prepared in years so we are prepared for everyding.
The Lindberghs set out to appoint a go-between to work with the kidnappers to deliver the ransom. The kidnappers sent a third ransom note to the Lindbergh’s attorney, asking for them to place an ad in the papers to communicate. A retired school principal, Dr. John F. Condon, in the Bronx in NYC published a piece in the “Bronx Home News” offering to act as a go-between and pay an additional $1,000 ransom. The next day a fourth note from the kidnapper was delivered, accepting Dr. Condon as a go-between. His code name was “JAFSIE,” based on his initials.
The note to the Lindberghs, notifiying them of Dr. Condon’s approval as the go-between:
Mr Colonel Lindbergh Hopewell
Dear Sir: Mr Condon may act as go-between. You may give him the 70,000$ make one packet the size will be about-- (drawing appeared)
We have notifyed you already in what kind of bills. We warn you not to set any trapp in any way. If you or someone els will notify the Police ther will be a further delay. Affter we have the mony in hand we will tell you where to find your boy. You may have a airplane redy it is about 150 miles awy. But before telling you the adr. a delay of 8 houers will be between.
A representative of the kidnappers who called himself “John” met with Dr. Condon in a local park. Condon asked for proof the baby was alive, and was promised that the baby’s pajamas would be returned. He did not get a good look at the kidnapper; not enough to identify him. He spoke with an accent, what Condon described as “foreign.” The pajamas were sent and confirmed to be Charles Jr’s.
Finally, a month after the kidnapping, the payment of the ransom was arranged. The payment was in a custom-made box and consisted of gold certificates that were going to be withdrawn from circulation in the near future, all with the intent to draw attention to the kidnapper and aid in identifying him. The serial number of each bill was recorded, though the bills themselves were not marked.
On April 2nd, Dr. Condon met with “John” again, presenting him with only $50,000. John accepted the money and gave Condon another note, claiming the child was on a boat in Martha’s Vineyard, in the care of two innocent women. The child was not found in Martha’s Vineyard, and the exchange of messages continued. At this point, Dr. Condon said he would be able to identify “John” if he saw him again.

The Corpse
On May 12, two months after the kidnapping, a delivery truck driver pulled to the side of the road in Hopewell Township, NJ, to take a leak. As he wandered off the road into a cove of trees, he discovered something gruesome: a decomposing corpse of an infant, 4.5 miles from the Lindbergh home. The child had quite obviously been killed via a blow to the head, and had been dead for about 2 months. The body was later cremated.

The Gold Certificate
On September 18, 1934, a hit came on one of the ransomed gold certificates, at a Manhattan bank. A New York license plate number was penciled in the margin, and as the gold certificate was traced back to the gas station at which it was spent, the clerk explained that he wrote down his customer’s license plate number as he thought they were acted suspicious and might be a confeiter. The plate was licensed to one Bruno Richard Hauptmann.
Hauptmann was a German immigrant, married to wife, Anna, and had one infant son, Manfried. He was 34 years old and come to America as a stowaway, settling in New York City. He had previously been convicted of crimes and served time in prison in Germany, and had served in the German military. He worked as a carpenter, though shortly after the kidnapping, he began to trade stocks and stopped working.

The Case Against Hauptmann
  • The most damning evidence, according to the jury and many modern observers, was that a floorboard in Hauptmann’s attic matched the woodgrain of the 16th rail of the ladder exactly. Additionally, the nail holes in Rail 16 corresponded exactly with four nail holes found in the joists of the Hauptmann’s attic. Other evidence suggesting that a piece of the joist was sawed off was found (the wood wouldn’t have been left exposed, there were saw marks, etc).
  • Hauptmann had a prior conviction in Germany for burglary, entering a second-story window using a ladder.
  • Hauptmann’s handwriting matched the ransom notes.
  • Dr. Condon’s address and phone number were found written inside a closet at Hauptmann’s home
  • Hauptmann called out of work on the day of the kidnapping and quit his job two days later.
  • Hauptmann was seen in East Amwell in the days before the kidnapping.
  • $14,590 of the ransom money was found in Hauptmann’s garage
  • Witnesses identified Hauptmann as spending some of the gold certificates
  • Hauptmann misspelled the same words that were misspelled in the notes

Evidence for Hauptmann’s Innocence
  • Though Dr. John Condon testified that Hauptmann was the same “John” he had met with previously, he was unable to pick out Hauptmann in a police lineup, and described him as having different features
  • Hauptmann testitifed that he had been instructed to misspell words in the handwriting samples he was made to provide (though some of these samples came from his work ledgers and other sources)
  • The police beat Hauptmann while he was in custody (not really evidence IMO)
  • Hauptmann’s prints were not found on the ladder, nor in any part of Lindbergh’s home, nor on the child’s body. No evidence was found on the body linking Hauptmann to the murder.
  • Allegations that police pressured witnesses and tampered with or planted evidence
  • A reporter later confessed to having written to writing Condon’s name and address in the Lindbergh home
  • Complaints that police allowed crime scenes to be contaminated

The Electric Chair
Hauptmann was convicted and sentenced to death in “Old Smokey” -- yes, that really was the name for our old electric chair. You can see Old Smokey today in the Newseum in DC. Hauptmann’s ladder and other evidence is on display in the NJ State Police Museum.
Hauptmann was executed on April 3, 1936. His last words were in his native tongue, "Ich bin absolut unschuldig an den Verbrechen, die man mir zur Last legt" -- "I am absolutely innocent of the crime with which I am burdened."
His widow campaigned for her husband’s innocence until her death.

Points I often hear brought up
  • Many think someone within the household was in on the crime, and the finger is usually pointed at Betty Gow. The kidnapper had to know which window was the baby’s bedroom, and there was one window where the shutters did not latch properly - this points to it being an inside job. (The flipside to this is Hauptmann was seen casing the house - then again, that’s if you believe the eyewitnesses.)
  • The Lindbergh’s dog often barked at strangers and never fussed on the night of the kidnapping, indicating the dog was familiar with whoever the kidnapper was
  • A big deal is often made of how convincing Hauptmann was in person. He had piercing blue eyes, and when he testified of his innocence, he could be quite convincing until you stepped back and took a look at the evidence. He convinced his lawyer that he was innocent, and the lawyer believed him even after his death
  • The Union Hotel, where many reporters stayed to cover the case, is haunted (across the street from the Courthouse)
  • The jail where Hauptmann was held is haunted (this was not where he was executed, he was just held there during the trial since it is directly behind the Courthouse)
  • The consensus seems to be that Hauptmann was guilty, but the housemaid was in on it.

What I Think Happened
This was intended to be a kidnapping, not a murder. Hauptmann plucked Charlie Jr. from his crib intended to hold him for ransom, but as he was climbing down the ladder, the rung broke, he dropped the child, and the baby died instantly. Hauptmann had no choice but to continue now - he stashed the ladder and dashed off, panicked.
I do not think Hauptmann was very bright. I think he underestimate the celebrity of the Lindberghs and how much attention the case would attract. I think the crime was poorly planned, being that the notes were handwritten and he met in person with Condon (I’m not sure what to make of Condon’s failure to identify, but we all know how faulty eyewitness evidence can be). Particularly since the crime didn’t go according to plan, Hauptmann did not seem to have a fall-back for this. This is evidenced when he jumps on the fact that they went to the police and made a fuss - he could not possibly have expected they wouldn’t, could he? - he seems almost over-eager to lord holding the baby for longer over their heads. Why? Because the baby is dead, and has been since the first night.
Hauptmann had no plan for disguising his use of the easily-traceable gold certificates - why accept the money, less than he had demanded and not in the form he had requested? Because he’s already panicked and glad that he’s getting anything, and the entire crime is poorly planned.
This doesn’t seem like it would have been a one-man job -- but, on the other hand, it also seems so poorly planned that it may have been. I question that Hauptmann’s wife, Anna, was considered innocent.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Setagaya Family Murders: the bizarre unsolved murder of a family of four

ᴄᴜʀʀᴇɴᴛ ʀᴇsᴇᴀʀᴄʜɪɴɢ: ɪᴛᴇᴍs ᴛʜᴀᴛ ᴀʀᴇ ᴄᴜʀʀᴇɴᴛʟʏ ʙᴇɪɴɢ ʀᴇsᴇᴀʀᴄʜᴇᴅ ᴍᴀʏ ʙᴇ ᴜᴘᴅᴀᴛᴇᴅ ᴘᴇʀɪᴏᴅɪᴄᴀʟʟʏ.

The Miyazawa Family

On December 30, 2000, the Miyazawa family went about their business as usual in the Setagaya district of Tokyo, oblivious to the fact that they were living out the last day of their lives.

Mikio Miyazawa, 44, worked for Interbrand, a London-based consulting firm. His wife, Yasuko, was a teacher, and they had two children: 8-year-old Niina and 6-year-old Rei.

The neighborhood they lived in was rather abandoned; there was an expansion of the skate park next door to them, and thus most of their neighbors had moved out. When the family moved there in 1990, the development held 200 families. Now, there were just four left: the Miyazawas, Yasuko's sister living next door, and two houses across the way.
The Miyazawas’ home was semi-detached. Though it was physically connected to Yasuko’s sister’s home, there was no way between the two houses from the inside.

The skate park had apparently been causing the Miyazawa family some grief, due to the noise. They planned to move in March 2001, so they only had a few months left in their home. A witness reported seeing Mikio arguing with skateboarder a few days before the crime. Another witness reported seeing the father arguing with the Bōsōzoku, a bike gang.
The evening of their last day alive, a witness saw the Miyazawas shopping at around 6pm at Seijogakuenmae Station, just under a mile from their home. A neighbor confirmed that at 6:30pm, their car was not in their driveway.
At 7pm that evening, Yasuko called her mother, who lived next door with her sister and her sister's husband. Niina had also visited her grandmother that evening, and had used her computer to watch a recorded TV program until 9:38pm.
At around 10:38-10:45, the family computer received an email that required a password to open. This is the latest time that we know the Miyazawas were alive.

Sightings before the crime

On December 25th, Yasuko had mentioned to her father-in-law that someone’s car was being repeatedly parked in front of their house.
On the 27th, a man described as in his forties was seen wandering around the house.
On the 29th, the day before the crime, a young man was seen near Seijogakuenmae Station wearing an outfit similar to the one found at the scene of the crime, along with a very small backpack. The eyewitness clearly remembered this because the man was underdressed for the weather, so she took note of it.
On the 30th, a man matching the description of the suspect was seen near Sengawa station, almost a mile from the Miyazawa home, stated to be between 35-40 years old. A man was also seen hurrying away on a path near the home at around 11:35pm – this is suspected to be the killer hurrying on his way to climb the fence (we’ll get to that in a bit).

The Layout of the Miyazawa Home

In 2013, investigators created a 3D-printed model of the Miyazawa’s home, a 1/28 scale replica. This is incredibly useful to understanding how the crime was played out. The locations of the victim’s bodies are labeled.

The home is portrayed exactly as investigators found it on December 31st. Note the open second-floor window. That is how our killer enters.

  The second floor of the Miyazawa home.  The killer entered through the bathroom in the rear.

A split view of part of the first and second floors.  The locations were the family's bodies were found are labeled.  The killer enters through the bathroom and turns right, first smothering the boy, 6-year-old Rei, in his sleep in the bunkbeds. Mikio had been working in the study on the first floor. Perhaps hearing a sound, he climbs the stairs, where he encounters the home invader. They fight, and the father’s body is found at the bottom of the stairwell.
See the two steps into the empty air above the first floor? Those lead up to the mezzanine. From the mezzanine floor, you can pull down a ladder that leads up to the third floor loft.

In this view of what is described as the “mezzanine floor,” we see the bodies of the mother and daughter where they were found at the foot of the ladder. That black line, as far as I can tell, lines up to the opening of the third floor, which we see here:

 Niina's blood was found on one of the futons, suggesting her and her mother hid upstairs from their attacker.

The Crime

How did our killer enter?  Take another look at the rear of the home:

The bathroom window was opened and the screen had fallen off inside. (I’m having a hard time determining if the screen had been removed or was actually cut. I’m leaning towards cut, since that seems to make more sense.) Footprints from the criminal were found below the window, as well as broken tree branches just below it. The killer apparently climbed the chain-link fence beneath the window and gained entry there, knocking off small tree branches in the process.
As I said before, the killer quietly made his way to the bedroom of the son, 6-year-old Rei, and strangled him in his sleep. Mikio, who had been in the study working on the first floor of the house, possibly heard a noise and made his way upstairs, where he encountered the invader.
The man had brought a sashimi knife with him, a knife with a long, thin blade. The killer and the father fought on the staircase, and the killer damaged his knife in the process. The father’s lifeless body was found lying at the bottom of the stairs to the second floor.
The killer then attacked the mother, Yasuko, and 8-year-old daugher, Niina, who were sleeping together in the third floor loft of the house. However, he couldn’t finish the job with his knife, and had to retreat to the kitchen on the second floor to grab another knife to finish them off - killing Yasuko with her own kitchen knife.
The family’s first aid kit was found open at the scene, with some of the daughter’s blood on the bandages. It appears that during the time the killer retreated to get a knife, Yasuko and Niina took the time to bandage their wounds and possibly hide somewhere. I haven't been able to find out where the first aid kit was kept or where in the house it was found. However, bandages were in the kitchen, with a bandage stuck to the fridge, and a bandage in the living room, as well. Yasuko and Niina may have raised the ladder to the loft in an attempt to hide from the killer, since Niina’s blood was also found on a futon upstairs. The phone lines were unplugged (though at what point this happened is unclear), so perhaps they were unable to call for help.
The killer returned with the knife from the kitchen and finished his gory task. The knifings of the female victims were much more intense than that of of his male victims, suggesting that he treats the victims differently based on sex. He would also continue to stab their bodies after they were dead.
Based on their stomach contents, the time of the family’s death was placed at 11:30pm.
During the attack, the murderer was injured at some point. His blood was found on bandages at the scene. There is also evidence that he used feminine hygiene products for this purpose as well. A perfect fingerprint of his was found on a towel (this might be a translation error, as I imagine it’s hard to leave a fingerprint on a towel; perhaps it was a paper towel?).

After the crime, he stayed in the house

After killing the family, the killer did not leave - he made himself at home. Perhaps after bandaging himself in the kitchen, he then opened the fridge and helped himself to its contents. Though there was some alcohol available (10 cans of beer), the killer didn’t take it - leading police to believe that he doesn’t drink. The killer ate some melon, drank barley tea, and ate some popsicles. He wandered around the home as he ate the popsicles, discarding two wrappers in the kitchen trash can, and winding up in Mikio’s study, where he discarded two other wrappers.
After going through some personal documents, the killer sat down in his victim’s chair and logged on the computer. (Can’t you picture him, idly sucking on a popsicle while tapping the keyboard with one hand, curiously poking around the computer, flipping through documents?)
Between midnight and 1am, the killer browsed the internet for 5min and 18 seconds. He visited the site of Shiki Theater Company and attempted to buy tickets to see a show. The Shiki Theater Company was an internet bookmark that had been saved by Mikio.
Then again, sometime in the morning, the killer used the computer for 4minutes and 16 seconds. He visited the webpage of the Mikio’s company and Yasuko’s school, then killed the power to the computer by pulling the power cord. The power cord was not found at the scene of the crime. The suspect’s fingerprints were not found on the keyboard, but they were found on the mouse.
Perhaps after attempting and failing to purchase theater tickets, the killer continuing strolling about the house, rummaging for information on his victims. In the living room, credit cards, bank books, driver’s licenses, and other personally identifying information were spread out as if the suspect had been sorting through them. In the second floor bathtub, more scattered papers were located, such as receipts, items from the mother’s school, towels, sanitary products used to stop bleeding, and other garbage were tossed. Perhaps now is when the killer used the toilet. He didn’t flush, and evidence of green beans and sesame seeds were found in his stool; apparently, a meal of sesame spinach, a cold dish the perpetrator consumed somewhere other than the Miyazawa’s home.
At some point, the killer took a nap on the couch in the living room.
It is possible that the killer left and returned to the scene of the crime. However, I don’t get the impression that this is seen as very likely. Not that the killer seems to mind risk, but that would be a serious indication of additional risk. No one is seen entering or leaving the home at this time, and there had been a few sightings of the killer before the attacks, as well as one potential sighting afterwards – keep in mind, the killer is injured. Given that there is evidence of the killer taking a nap on the couch, I think this is the explanation for the gap in his movements at the time. Of course, there is no way to know for sure.

What he left behind

Calm and not at all cautious through the entire affair, the killer left behind several personal belongings at the scene of the crime. It doesn’t seem the suspect was ever fearful of being caught or of leaving behind evidence, so it doesn’t seem like this would be an oversight. The suspect changed his clothes and left behind his outfight, neatly folded.

What he wore: Dress like a killer!

I want to list out the articles of clothing and brand names, but I’m having difficultly doing so. The brands are from a local skateboarding store, and the style is that skateboarder/surfer kind of look.
The suspect left behind:
  • sneakers, Slazenger brand, with Korean sizing (likely purchased in Korea)
  • a dark green hip bag – this is like a cooler version of a fanny pack, apparently (see picture above)
  • a black handkerchief
  • a hat
  • a scarf
  • a down jacket
  • black winter gloves
Police were also able to determine the cologne the suspect wore (a favorite brand of skateboarders).
Several of these items were available to be purchased in the Suginami ward by Ogikubo station, so police think the suspect shopped there. However, despite being able to locate specific stores where the killer shopped, they were no closer to revealing his identity.
Due to leaving behind his clothing, the police were able to determine that the killer is 5’7” with a waist size of 32.6in. He was probably in his twenties or thirties (in 2000), and obviously physically fit.

The Murder Weapon

The killer brought a sashimi knife with him. I believe the brand is Yanagiha Hawatari, and the store where this specific knife was purchased was located by police (it was in the shopping center at Ogikubo station). This was used to kill Mikio.

Genetic makeup of killer

The killer is mixed-race, with a mother of Southern European descent and a father who is either Korean or Chinese (probably more likely Korean).
Obviously, his fingerprints and DNA have been thoroughly searched and match nothing.

Trace Evidence

There was some strange and rather telling amounts of small trace evidence.
In the “hip bag” small traces of sand were found. Sand, of course, can be analyzed just like another else. This sand came from America. The southwest, actually; near Las Vegas, Nevada… specifically, sand from Edwards Air Force Base.
This is the most mind-blowing piece of evidence for me. Edwards Air Force Base?! Why?!
Sand was also found that was traced to a skate park in Japan. There are comments like “California is where skater culture began, so it’s clear this is a skater…” but what was he doing on an American Air Force base?!
The suspect seems to travel a lot… America, Korea, Japan… so maybe he is an Airman? I hate the thought of someone this crazy living in my country or serving in my military. However, I believe that you are fingerprinted when you joined the military, so I would expect that this avenue has been explored and is a dead end, as I don’t see any mention of the suspect being in the American Armed Forces.
Trace amounts of a “red flourescent agent” were also found on the suspect’s clothing. This apparently indicates that the suspect was involved in stage prop design, as that is where this particular chemical is used, and it was not something the family had or would have been around. Trace amounts were also found in the garage, however, there was no indication the suspect had ever been in the garage. This led investigators to believe that the suspect may have had contact with the family prior to the killing. It makes me wonder if there was cross contamination, however, this forensic examination was clearly top-notch, so I doubt contamination was the case.

Sighting After the Crime

On the 31st, six hours after the discovery of the crime and probably seven hours after the killer had fled the scene, a young man was treated for a knife wound at Tobunikko Station, around 75 miles to the north of the [family’s] house. The man was in his 30s and was wearing a black down jacket and jeans. The station staff treated him for the wound, which was deep enough to see the bone. The man did not give his name nor did he give a reason for his wound, and, incredible though it seems, he was simply treated and released.
Remember, at this time investigators thought the criminal had left the scene the night before, and it wasn’t until months later, when they had examined the forensic evidence on the computer, that they realized the suspect had stayed in the home. By this time it was ten months later and it was impossible to trace the suspect further.

Items Missing from the Home

This murder was not about money - many valuable items and cash were not taken from the home. The killer may have taken 150,000 yen ($1256 USD), but family members weren’t sure where the money was, and again, more cash than that was left in the home.
An old jacket was missing, and all of the family’s “Happy New Year” greeting cards were missing (I get the sense these are like Christmas cards to us Westerners).
The power cord to the computer is not mentioned here, but that was not found in the home, either.

Discovery of the Crime

At around 10pm, a witness strolling through the park heard an argument from the Miyazawa home. However, they didn’t hear anything being broken or any physical altercation. This makes police think the killer may have been on the scene earlier. I dislike this explanation because we still have that email being opened at 11:30pm, and I can’t imagine anyone would pause arguing with an intruder to open an email. I’m inclined to think the witness got the time wrong.
Around 11:30pm, the grandmother (Yasuko’s mother) next door heard a loud bang. Police reenacted the scene and found that this could have been either Mikio falling down the stairs or the attic ladder deploying. However, the sound wasn’t enough to make the family suspect anything and was not investigated further.
The following morning, Yasuko’s mother tried calling the family and found that she couldn’t get through (because the killer had cut the phone lines). Suspicious, she went next door and rang the doorbell. The front door was locked from the inside. (The police are not sure how the killer left, since there was no blood or fingerprints on the front door. I’m doubtful the killer left through the bathroom window, however; as we all know, absence of fingerprints doesn’t mean it wasn’t touched.)
The grandmother used her set of keys to open the door and discovered the crime scene.


There have been, essentially, no leads on who this person might be.
The suspect is mixed race, half Asian (probably Korean) and half white. He is young, in his 20s or 30s at the time of the crime, which would place him in his 30s or 40s now. He was into the skateboarding scene back then. He probably has issues with females. He doesn’t drink, or didn’t at the time of the crime.
Despite the overwhelming amount of forensic evidence found, the perpetrator of this deeply disturbing crime has never been found.


Friday, October 23, 2015

The Beautiful Blue Glow: the Goiânia Radiation Disaster

ᴛʜɪs ɪs ᴛʜᴇ  ғɪʀsᴛ ᴘᴏsᴛ ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ ʀᴀᴅɪᴀᴛɪᴏɴ sᴇʀɪᴇs.

Everyone knows that radiation is dangerous and can kill us. We’ve all heard about the warnings that come from nuclear reactions: Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. We know today that our forefathers weren’t as wise.

Troops of the Battalion Combat Team, U.S. Army 11th Airborne Division, watch a nuclear blast on Yucca Flats as part of the exercise "Desert Rock I," November 1, 1951.
Troops of the Battalion Combat Team, U.S. Army 11th Airborne Division, watch a nuclear blast on Yucca Flats as part of the exercise "Desert Rock I," November 1, 1951.

We expect better from ourselves today. Considering human nature, this is folly. I’m going to tell you the stories you don’t know about humans and radiation.

Our first stop on our examination of the relationship between humans and radiation takes us to the city of Goiânia, Brazil, where one of the strangest and saddest radiation accidents in modern history unfolded in 1987.

The Source

The Instituto Goiano de Radioterapia was a radiotherapy clinic in Goiânia, Brazil. Radiotherapy is a cancer treatment in which a concentrated beam of radiation is targeted at the afflicted area. For this purpose, the IGR employed a cesium-137 based teletherapy machine.
In the radiation head, a container of radioactive cesium-137, 2 inches wide and 1.8 inches long, was housed in lead. The patient would lie on a table underneath the machine, exposing whatever cancer-stricken body part necessary. Once everyone was settled and safe, the aperture would be opened, firing its beam.

This particular machine, a Cesapan F-3000, is thought to have been made at none other than the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States at some point in the seventies. It contained 93 grams of highly radioactive cesium chloride, which is a cesium salt containing the radioisotope cesium-137.
Radiation can be measured in many ways, and in this case, we're going to refer to it in Grays. The source was giving off 4.65 Gray per hour. For comparison, the accepted annual radiation dose for non-nuclear workers in the US is .001 to .005 Gy.

Instant radiation death takes place at about 50 Gy. 30 Gy will kill you overnight; anywhere from 8-30Gy will kill you in 24 hours to 2 weeks, with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fever, cognitive impairment, and shock. Less dramatic doses, around 5 Gy, will produce what is probably the most common image of radiation poisoning: a long, slow sickness.The body suffers “cell preproductive death”: our body’s cells are constantly in flux, dying and producing new cells to replace them; the danger is when cells fail to produce new generations of cells to replace them as they naturally die. This is not what will kill you; it is a resistance to infection, caused by the lack of white blood cells. This is called leucopenia. If you survive initially and avoid infection (which may kill you in about 4-6 weeks), you are very likely to develop cancer, especially leukemia, in around 10-20 years, and any children you have will have a high probably of genetic mutations.

The Abandonment

The Cesapan machine had been purchased in 1977, but it was now 1985 and IGR had expanded since then, and was moving to a new facility. The clinic packed up and moved out, then had to deal with the machines – as one would hope, it is not easy to move machines with radioactive materials. One was moved, but the cesium machine stayed.

The abandoned clinic was then lodged in legal warfare.
The abandoned IGR clinic.
The abandoned IGR clinic.

IGR and the St. Vincent de Paul Conference, the owners of the site, were still in court in September 1986, when the Court of Goiás stated it had knowledge of the abandoned radiological material in the building.

What happened next is unclear. Despite my best efforts, there is very little information about this incident available online. Wikipedia cites a Portuguese newspaper, Jornal Opção, whose relevant articles appear to no longer be available online, and reports that on May 4th, 1987, the director of Ipsago, an insurance institute for civil servants, "used police force to prevent one of the owners of IGR, Carlos Figueiredo Bezerril, from removing the objects that were left behind." Bezerill then wisely warned the president of Ipsago, Lício Teixeira Borges, "that he should take responsibility 'for what would happen with the 'cesium bomb.'"

Instead of removing the ticking nuclear time bomb, the court instead appointed a security guard to patrol the abandoned clinic. Wikipedia reports, "Meanwhile, the owners of IGR wrote several letters to the National Commission for Nuclear Energy, warning them about the danger of keeping a teletherapy unit at an abandoned site, but they could not remove the equipment by themselves once a court order prevented them from doing so."

Despite this, the clinic winds up taking the full brunt of the blame in almost every account I've read of this story. The IAEA report does not go into detail about why the cesium machine was left abandoned, but claims that "CNEN [Comissão Nacional de Energia Nuclear; National Nuclear Energy Comission, the government agency responsible for Brazil's nuclear program] did not receive appropriate notifications of these changes in status [the abandonment of the clinic], as required under the terms of the institute's license." However, it notes, "the circumstances that led to the abandonment of the telepathy machine... have not been completely clarified. Moreover, at the time of writing they are the subject of legal proceedings." Despite the fact that it seems that the clinic owners' hands were tied by the Brazilian state of Goiás, the IAEA concludes, "Nothing can deflect from the fact that the professional and moral responsibility for the security of a radioactive source must lie with the person or persons licensed as responsible for it."

The Scavenging

On September 13, 1987, the security guard skipped work. Instead, the guard, Voudireinão da Silva, apparently used a sick day to see a cinema screening of Herbie Goes Bananas with his family.
Another view of the abandoned IGR clinic.
Another view of the abandoned IGR clinic.
I couldn't make this stuff up.

On that same day, two men, Roberto dos Santos Alves and Wagner Mota Pereira, snuck into the clinic. They were scavenging for scrap metal that they could sell to a junkyard. They found the teletherapy machine, and, thinking that medical equipment must be worth something, they loaded it into a wheelbarrow and carried it to Alves' home.

Between the 13th and the 18th, Alves worked on dismantling the machine beneath a mango tree in his yard, so they could sell the parts for scrap. On the 18th, stabbing the machine with a screwdriver, he managed to break the window of the aperture through which the radiation was released. A chalky, powdery substance spilled out. It was the radioactive cesium.

Thinking that this might be gunpowder, Alves attempted to light the powder.

I invite you to pause and think about that for a second.

Thankfully, for all involved (and the entire country of Brazil), he was unsuccessful.

Abandoning the project, Alves and Pereira sold the source assembly to junkyard owner Devair Alves Ferreira.

The Sickness

Removed from this lead encasement, the full radioactivity of the cesium began its work on the unshielded, unsuspecting humans.

The day of the 13th, both Alves and Pereira vomited. Over the next few days they grew increasingly ill, exhibiting vomiting, diarrhea and dizziness. Both assumed that this was due to food poisoning; when Pereira saw a doctor, he was informed that he had a food allergy and should “take it easy” for a week.

Pereira had also developed a burn on his hand, the exact size and shape of the window on the source capsule.

Yet no one was admitted to the hospital until the 23rd.
A skin lesion caused by radiation exposure at Goiânia.
A skin lesion caused by radiation exposure at Goiânia.

The Beautiful Glow

Ferreira purchased the machine on the 18th, and dumped it in a garage on his property. Later that night he was walking through the yard when he noticed a blue glow coming from under the door. He rushed into the garage and discovered that the beautiful blue glow was coming from the punctured capsule.

Awed by this sight, and thinking that the material must be highly valuable, if not supernatural, Ferreira brought the container into his house, intending to make a ring for his wife.

Over the next few days, the family invited their friends over to take a look at the beautiful material.

On September 21st, one of the friends managed to free several grains of the source material. These were shared among Ferreira’s family and friends, thus spreading the contamination throughout the community. That same day, Ferreiera’s wife, Gabriela Maria, began to fall ill. Once again, it was misdiagnosed as food poisoning.

Ferreria’s brother, Ivo, brought home the glowing dustlike flakes of the source material he’d scraped out of the container. He set these on the family table while they were eating a meal, and they were primarily handled by his daughter, six-year-old Leide, while she ate her dinner. Friends came to visit, and they rubbed the dust on their skin like body glitter, laughing and playing.
This is one rave you don't want to attend.
This is one rave you don't want to attend.

Gabriela Maria began to notice many people around her were falling ill at the same time, and started to put the pieces together. She is the heroine of the tale: her actions probably saved lives, and finally altered authorities to the danger in their midst.

The Plastic Bag

On September 28th, Gabriela and an employee from her husband’s company went to a rival junkyard which had been sold the remainder of the source material, collected it in a plastic bag, and traveled by bus to a hospital, the Vigilância Sanitária. The employee, identified only as G.S., carried the plastic bag on his shoulder, and set it on the floor during the bus ride. Everyone along her path was exposed to radiation – including the passengers on the bus, trapped in an enclosed space with the radioactive source for about an hour.

Once at the hospital, Gabriela presented Dr. Paulo Roberto Monteiro with the bag, telling him that it was “killing her family.” Another hero in this twisted tale, Dr. Monteiro quickly suspected the material as being radioactive - possibly from part of an X-ray machine - and isolated the material by placing it on a chair in a courtyard outside the facility. His quick response saved the casualties from further escalating. By this point, G.S. had a burn on his shoulder from where he had been carrying the plastic bag. Finally, finally, the authorities were contacted.
But it looks so innocent.
But it looks so innocent.

The Scintillation Counter

The doctors conferred, and contacted the state department, which sent a medical physicist to examine the mysterious package. The physicist (identified only as W.F. in the IAEA report) brought a Scintillation counter with him - similar to a Geiger counter, it is a device that measures ionizing radiation, borrowed from NUCLEBRAS, a government agency that works with Brazil's power plants. This device had a range of 0.03–30 microgray/hour. W.F. set off walking towards the hospital, and switched on the counter while he was still quite some distance away. The device immediately registered at the top of the scale, no matter which way he pointed it. Convinced the device was malfunctioning, W.F. returned to the NUCLEBRAS offices to retrieve another counter.

This time W.F. made it to Vigilância Sanitária, and of course, received the same results. In the meantime, the doctors had contacted the fire department. W.F. arrived just in time to dissuade the fire brigade from their initial response: removing the source material and throwing it in a river.

The Contamination

From then on, the incident was handled by the appropriate authorities. 130,000 people flooded the area hospitals, asking to be screened for radiation contamination. The city even held testing in their Olympic stadium. Using Geiger counters, 250 people were found to be contaminated, some with radiation residue still on their skin. Of these, 20 people showed signs of radiation poisoning and had to be hospitalized.

The following is a list of the key characters and the doses they received:

Roberto dos Santos Alves and Wagner Mota Pereira both survived. I cannot find a source for the amount of radiation they were exposed to, but it must have been considerable. Both suffered from vomiting and diarrhea and Pereira had a burn on his hand from handling the radiation head. The space under a mango tree in Alves' yard, where he had broken open the source, gave a dose rate of 1.1Gy, and the entire area was very contaminated. The building had to be demolished and the topsoil removed.
Demolishing one of the contaminated houses.
Demolishing one of the contaminated houses.

Devair Alves Ferreira
survived an incredible dose of 7.0 Gy and survived. The IAEA report notes that this may have been because "he spent more time out of the house and his exposure was fractionated." This happened in several cases where people survived considerable exposure. Fractionated exposure allows the body some time to heal from radiation sickness, instead of a continuous dosage.

G.S. had a significant radiation burn on his shoulder and received an estimated whole body dose of 3.0 Gy. He survived.

Dr. Paulo Roberto Monteiro received an estimated dose of 1.3 Gy and survived.

The Deaths

37-year-old Gabriela Maria Ferreira, who saved countless lives by reporting the incident to authorities, died of radiation sickness on October 23, 1987. She sustained a dose of 5.7 Gy. Her condition worsened as time went on, and she suffered internal bleeding in the limbs, eyes, and digestive tract, as well as hair loss.
Israel Baptista dos Santos and Admilson Alves de Souza were two of Ferreira's employees assigned to work on removing the source from its lead encasement. Dos Santos received a dose of 4.5 Gy and suffered serious respiratory and lymphatic complications, dying on October 27, 1987 at age 22. De Souza received a dose of 5.3 Gy and suffered lung damage, internal bleeding, and heart damage. He died October 18, 1987 at age 18. Their lung problems were likely from inhaling the dustlike particles of the radioactive source material that would have been dispersed in the air as they worked.
Leide das Neves Ferreira suffered a dose of 6.0 Gy. When an international team of medical professionals arrived to treat her, they found her shunned to an isolated room in the hospital because hospital staff were afraid to go near her, for fear of radiation contamination. Because she had actually physically consumed the source material, her symptoms were particularly nasty, including swelling and massive internal bleeding. She died on October 23, 1987.


The government's response to the disaster was adequate, but misinformation flourished, and the public was understandably terrified of the risk of contamination. The four bodies of the victims were buried in lead-lined coffins surrounded by tons of concrete. Maria Gabriela's coffin weighed over 1000lbs (500kg), and inside was a layer of lead half a centimeter thick. A window was opened in the front, allowing the family to look in and see Maria and say their good-byes. Little Leide's coffin was even heavier, because she was even more irradiated -- over 1500lbs (700kg). Her coffin did not have a window. After the coffins were lowered in graves already coated with a foot of concrete, it took 2 hours to fill the tombs with cement.

Even more terrible, to even get to the graveyard the families and bodies had to wade through a sea of protesters, frantically attempting to prevent the burial from taking place. They piled rocks in the roads and some even tried to fling themselves in the way of the convoy. The video below shows some of this dramatic footage. (The voice-over is in Portuguese, but I've already summarized everything they said above.)

Legal repercussions

As I said before, IGR takes the brunt of the blame. The three doctors who owned and ran the Instituto Goiano de Radioterapia were charged with criminal negligence; namely, that they left behind a machine containing deadly radioactive waste. The moral of the story is, of course, that you need to keep close track of your nuclear waste (a lesson we would all hope it wasn't necessary to learn - alas, such is not human nature). On the bright side, this is now a legal requirement in many countries, and handled by the government, not private authorities.

Wikipedia reports, "In 2000, CNEN, the National Nuclear Energy Commission, was ordered by the 8th Federal Court of Goiás to pay compensation of R$1.3 million and to guarantee medical and psychological treatment for the direct and indirect victims of the accident and their descendants down to the third generation." For various complicated reasons, the owners of IGR could not be found liable; one had to pay a fine for the derelict condition of the building.

The junkyard where Devair Ferreira and his family lived, as it appears today.
The junkyard where Devair Ferreira and his family lived, as it appears today.

What was the blue glow?

We don't really know. Typically, radioactive material does not glow. A chunk of plutonium just looks like a plain, boring lump of metal, even if it is radioactive enough to kill you overnight if you come within a yard of it. Radioactive materials do not glow green, the way they do in cartoons. They are depicted as such because most of the early radioactivity experiments (most famously, those of Marie Curie) were done with radium, which does glow green in the dark.

That said, this blue glow is not completely unheard of. The IAEA report notes that "the phenomenon of the blue glow was observed by individuals from ORNL and United States Department of Energy's Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site (REAC/TS) at Oak Ridge, USA," during an experiment in early 1988, and "Further study is in progress in OAk Ridge to determine the nature of this blue glow." (You will remember that the radiation source itself is thought to have been manufactured in Oak Ridge -- see how our story has come full circle!)

The glow is thought to be linked to Cerenkov radiation, which is difficult to summarize simply. It happens when a charged particle passes through a dielectric medium (usually water) faster than the speed of light in that medium. This causes the charged particles to polarize and switch back to their ground state, emitting radiation. Suffice to say: when you put radioactive things in water, it glows.

This phenomenon is demonstrated in the following video of a nuclear reactor "pulse" at the Nuclear Engineering Teaching Lab (NETL) at UT Austin. The caption of the video explains, "All the Control Rods are removed simultaneously allowing the nuclear reaction to proceed un-dampened, bringing the energy output of the reactor to 680 Megawatts in 50 milliseconds." The reactor is, you can see, sitting in a tub of water, causing the Cerenkov radiation.