Joan Baez’s Weird Homage to Slavery

Way back in 1971, Joan Baez released a double album called “Blessed Are”, which, in retrospect, may be one of the weirdest album releases of all time.

Blessed Are... (Joan Baez album - cover art).jpg

Joan Baez, in case you don’t remember or weren’t born yet, was a famous folk singer who became a prominent anti-war, anti-racism protest leader during the 1960’s, and an interpreter of Bob Dylan’s songs.  As a result, unsurprisingly, she pissed off a lot of patriotic war-loving Americans who regarded her, along with Jane Fonda, as treasonous dupes of the radical left.  They may not have liked John Lennon; they may have regarded Dylan with hostile indifference; they may have ignored Pete Seeger; but they hated Baez and Fonda with a toxic rage.

“Blessed Are” appears to be a peace offering of some kind, to southerners, patriots, farmers, and, perhaps, country music fans.    It featured a hit for Baez, “The Night They Drove old Dixie Down”, by Robbie Robertson of The Band (and subject of a bitter dispute between him and The Band’s drummer Levon Helm).

Levon Helm says in his autobiography:

“I remember taking him [Robertson] to the library so he could research the history and geography of the era and make General Robert E. Lee come out with all due respect.”

Helm was so bitterly annoyed by Baez’s version of “The Night They Drove old Dixie Down” that he refused afterwards to sing it in concert.  I wonder if he was more annoyed by her politics than anything else.  What musician gets upset when another artist makes a signature song more popular?

Anyway, to make General Lee come out with “all due respect”– all the respect due to a slave-owning General who led the war effort to preserve the institution of slavery– may strike some as a dubious cause.

Look at the lyrics:

Like my father before me, I’m a working man
I’m like my brother before me, I took a rebel stand
Well, he was just eighteen, proud and brave
When a Yankee laid him in his grave
I swear by the blood below my feet,
You can’t raise a Cain back up with it’s in defeat

Some claim that the song is sympathetic to the Lost Cause ideology and defends slavery.  I think it does neither.  The fact that it was written by a Canadian should clue listeners in: this is an observational song, not propaganda for either side.  In fact, its observational qualities are acute and beautiful and tragic.

The album also has a song by Jagger and Richards, a paean to the “hard-working” average joe who always gets the short end of the stick.  And a tribute to a southern farmer friend with “the slowest drawl I’d ever heard” showing the narrator and friend around his beautiful farm.  There’s an intriguing song about apocalypse: Three Horses.

But let’s move on to “Lincoln Freed Me Today”.  If “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” seems ambiguous, “Lincoln Freed Me Today” is decidedly revisionist.

Been a slave most all my life
So’s my kids and so’s my wife
I been working on the Colonel’s farm
Aint been mistreated, aint done no harm…
The Colonel’s been right good to me
He’s taken care of my family

The Colonel rode his buggy in from town
Hitched his horse and called us all around
Said he couldn’t keep us here no more
I saw a tear as he walked toward the door


I’m sure Baez did not have in mind the idea of rescuing slavery from the dustbin of history, or, giving us the positive side of antebellum culture.  I’m sure she thought, well, it’s a true picture of some slave-owners, and some slaves.  And one must be fair by presenting both sides of the issue.   But the “I saw a tear” is kind of repulsive.  That’s the image we’re supposed to take away from this kindly old slaveholder?

You see how convoluted we become.

The songwriter is variously credited as David Paton, David Patten, and David Paton.  It’s likely David Patton.  There’s very little information out there about him.



Ian and Sylvia do a just peachy version of this song.


False Statements and Superfluous Details

It is always fascinating to read about a very old mystery that is finally solved.

In 1984, a twelve-year-old girl, Jonelle Matthews, disappeared from her home in Greely, Colorado.  Police say they have been “haunted” by the case since then.  Last week, the mystery was “solved”.  A man named Steve Pankey was convicted of her kidnapping and murder.

Wow!  DNA evidence, right?  Fingerprints?  A witness?  A confession?

Well, we now know better than to trust confessions.

The evidence, as far as can be determined from the news article in the New York Times and Wiki, consists mostly of Pankey making “odd” comments about the case, showing an “unusual” interest in it, and …  well, read about it.   It’s get weirder and weirder.  Apparently, Pankey, who is divorced, and whose wife seems to have provided police with some of the evidence of Pankey’s “odd” interest in the case, admits to being a celibate homosexual, even while he served as an assistant pastor at his church.

His wife, apparently, does not remember that his alibi– that he was with her the night of the kidnapping– was a lie.  She was there with him, just a few nights before they left for a trip to California.  The car was already partly packed.  Would she not remember if he had been out that evening, if she remembers that he listened to radio accounts with suspiciously strong curiosity, or that he asked her to read newspaper accounts of the story aloud to him after they arrived home?

Jonelle’s body was found in 2019 by a construction crew working on a pipeline.  There is no DNA evidence, no finger-prints, no photos, no witnesses.  There is, in short, nothing but a rather bizarre interpretation of some odd but not really strange verbal expressions by the suspect.

This is not the first time some odd person has made curious statements about an unsolved murder.  We should know better by now: it’s a psychological condition, a personality quirk, a bizarre compulsion.  If a person behaves “oddly”, by all means, check it out.  But if there is no supporting evidence, you probably have something similar to this case.

Ask yourself this: would the police have ever excluded a possible suspect because he didn’t provide “superfluous details” when discussing the case with them?

But to bring a case like that to court, based sole on the “superfluous” detail or “excessive” interest is worse than inadequate.  It borders on criminal abuse.  Close enough!  Hang him!  Great police work!  Medals for everybody.

And Jonelle’s family is glad to have “closure”.  If I were in Jonelle’s family, I would tell the police, “are you fucking kidding me?”  Get back to work.

This is all absurd.  It’s idiotic.  And, as if we don’t already know from election-deniers,  it is further evidence that a lot of people are, frankly, stupid: a jury voted unanimously that, by golly, if the police think he’s guilty, he must be guilty.  They convicted him.

Pankey insists he is innocent.  He says he is being persecuted because of his homosexuality.  He might be right.

I love the “superfluous details”.  The police felt that the “superfluous details” implicated him.  Because there is some kind of magical police science that tells you that men who provide “superfluous details” likely committed a crime.  Just as, when I was little, my mother believed that giggling if someone stared at you and asked if you were lying meant that you were lying.

I know people who put on a grave, serious expression when talking about police who were killed or injured on duty, as if there is something solemn or sacred about them.   It is very hard, especially recently, especially after the numerous incidents in which police behaved very, very badly (even to the point of homicide) and not one of the officers who saw or heard of the incident reported it, to not believe that most police don’t deserve our respect.

Interesting side-note: Jonelle was born to a 13-year-old girl, and then adopted.

“A chokecherry tree was planted in front of Franklin Middle School in memory of Jonelle. The tree died after a few years and a plaque inscribed with Jonelle’s name disappeared.[18]”  (Wiki)  So much for that solemn commitment to commemorate and honor her memory.  I guess it was a superfluous detail.


Theory of Conspiracy Theories

There are about 20 or so good reasons to believe that John F. Kennedy was killed as the result of a conspiracy, and about a thousand reasons to believe that the conspirators should be comforted by the plethora of crack pot conspiracy theories out there dedicated to discrediting the whole idea of a conspiracy. These are straw men just waiting for reasonable, logical men like Dale Myers to come along and demolish them. Here he demolishes a theory he attributes to conspiracy buffs, but which, in fact, was actually the result of the government’s own errors in it’s initial investigation. (The government initially said that the first shot hit Kennedy in the neck, the second Connelly, the third Kennedy in the head. Then it tried to explain the entrance wound in the neck by a claim that Kennedy had turned around to see where the shots were coming from…. )


Why or why oh why are people like Dale Myers not content to do their good work and then leave it alone. Oh no– Myers tackles one particular detail of the conspiracy theory, solves it to his own personal satisfaction, and then concludes that there must not have been a conspiracy. He attacks one small aspect of the many conspiracy theories and then concludes that all aspects of all theories are, therefore, false. He doesn’t even address the issue of the “pristine” (stretcher) bullet that allegedly did all the damage he describes. In fact, that bullet had to have done all that damage or his theory collapses.

What he has demonstrated with some weight is that Kennedy and Connelly were probably hit about the same time by a bullet or bullets fired by somebody. Well, no, he actually can’t really demonstrate that either because Kennedy is already reacting to a shot by the time he emerges from behind the Stemmons Freeway sign. We don’t know when he began to react, so we don’t know when exactly he was shot. It’s quite possible, given the evidence Myers shows us, that Kennedy and Connelly were hit by two different shots fired at about the same time by two different gunman. He succeeds in making the theory of multiple gunmen less plausible, but it doesn’t rule it out.

Myers doesn’t explain here the Teague fragment– the shot that missed the car and hit the over-pass, sending a fragment of concrete into the face of Mr. James Teague– a shot ridiculously wide of the car. A shot ridiculously inaccurate for a shooter who was able to hit Kennedy in the head on his third try.

Myers doesn’t prove that Oswald fired any shots at all. Only that a shot came from behind and above. Myers claims that his reconstruction shows that the shots had to come from the sixth floor window– that’s an amazing conclusion given the variables involved. It is impossible to believe that Myers arrived at that conclusion from the objective evidence he puts before you. It is impossible to believe that he is justified in asserting anything more than that the shots came from that approximate location. It is impossible to believe that he has not already assumed the shots came from exactly that windows because he already knows that that is where Oswald was supposed to be. Then he acts as if he has uncovered an amazing fact in support of the lone gunman theory.

A little less smugness is called for. He has helped disprove the theory that there had to be two gunman. But he hasn’t solved the murder. He hasn’t proven that the shots came from Oswald. He hasn’t even proven that Oswald at the window at the moment the motorcade drove by.

What Myers does not prove:

  • that the bullets came from Oswald’s rifle: the ridiculous pristine bullet found on the stretcher is a very weak connection, especially (but not only) because of the controversy of which stretcher the bullet actually came from. Furthermore, the FBI now admits that it’s “scientific” analysis of bullets has always been flawed and unreliable, and will no longer provide that service to law enforcement.
  • that Oswald fired the shots: the FBI found no usable finger prints on the rifle at all. The Dallas Police later claimed to find a fragment of a palm print on the disassembled rifle. That’s a little weird and dubious at best.
    that there was actually an entry wound on the back of the head– the autopsy was botched so badly that there will never be a satisfactory answer to this question, especially given that none of the Parkland doctors saw this entry wound.
  • that the wound in the throat came from a bullet exiting Kennedy’s body. Most of the Parkland doctors initially identified this wound as an entry wound. Myers explains how it might have been a bullet exiting, but, again, the autopsy was botched and that remains questionable.
  • And a whole lot of other things, including the strange stories about Oswald’s relationships in New Orleans (including his contacts with David Ferrie), his adventures in Russia, the speed with which he was identified as the prime suspect, and so on and so on.

The state of conspiracy theory about Kennedy’s assassination is in a hopeless mess. That doesn’t mean all the conspiracy theories are wrong, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the Warren Commission was right, or even that the Warren Commission was not ridiculous. (Just look at who was on the Warren Commission: a bunch of fat old white politicians and judges who represented, exquisitely, the class of politician the Kennedys had just elbowed aside in John’s drive to the presidency.)

It has recently been shown that a great deal of FBI testimony in murder cases concerning the similarities and differences between bullets coming from different batches from a manufacturer…. was utterly unfounded. One of the reasons Oswald was held to be guilty was that the bullets found in the limousine and in Connelly were allegedly from the same batch as bullets found in Oswald’s possession, at his house.

The FBI now admits that this “proof” was based on junk science, with no grounding in fact whatsoever.

We also know that most people will continue to believe that the FBI “proved” that the bullets were from the same batch. It takes a long time for the truth to upend an embedded lie.

I do call it a lie because this untrue belief was not a disinterested belief– it was used over and over again in many U.S. courts to prove guilt. It was virtually never used to prove innocence.

Defenders of the Warren Commission have long argued that there was no evidence that Oswald knew David Ferrie, the pilot for the anti-Castro Cubans operating in Florida with links to the CIA. Eureka: a photograph surfaced just a few years ago showing Oswald and Ferrie at the same gathering of Cadets in Florida, I believe.


It is one thing for defenders of the Warren Commission to assert that the evidence of a connection was thin and unreliable– it was quite another for them to insist that there was no relationship, and then be proven wrong.

Dale Myers does not understand that you cannot prove a negative.  He can prove that a certain conspiracy theory has not been proven– but he can’t prove, therefore, that all other conspiracy theories are false.

more debunking of the the single bullet theory

More on Assassination Theories

Youtube Video debunking Myers


“The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act,” said Brian A. Benczkowski, a deputy assistant attorney general, in the letter, which had not previously been made public.
NY Times, April 27, 2008

This is the Bush Administration at it’s most astonishingly acute. This is from a letter drafted by the Attorney-General’s office to the intelligence services to enlighten them as to how they may torture.

Or was it drafted by the Arch-Bishop of Seville in 1300 to enlighten the Jesuits as to how much torture could be applied to a heretic? Let’s paraphrase: “the fact that an act is undertaken to prevent the spread of heresy rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse…” Or if Marxist guerrillas in Guatemala in the 1970’s had captured a suspected CIA mole: “the fact that an act is undertaken to prevent the oppression of the proletariat and exploitation of the working classes…”

Are there any government or military or paramilitary entities out there who only torture for the purpose of humiliation or abuse? Stop that right now– you are violating international law! But if you have some purpose, divine or otherwise, in mind, well, we do it, so why shouldn’t you?

We had formerly thought that such people were monsters of depravity, bereft of all that makes us human and civilized. They used to be our enemies. But now, they are merely like us, as long as their first reason is not “humiliation or abuse”. As long as they do not, as they approach their helpless victims with a tong, or electrodes, or a barrel of water, tell them, “and now I will inflict terrible suffering on you for the sole purpose of humiliation and abuse! Once I have humiliated and abused you, I will stop!

Obama’s Dobson

What’s the big deal? This story will last as long as the media can milk it, and then on to the next “scandal”. What is Jeremiah Wright if not nothing more than Barack Obama’s James Dobson?

James Dobson loves George Bush and regularly instructs him on who to nominate to the Supreme Court and who to appoint Attorney-General and whether or not God loves torture (he does– because he also likes spanking). Dobson is a crackpot neo-Victorian Puritan who has made himself extremely wealthy by easing parent’s consciences about controlling every aspect of their children’s lives until they get married and, maybe, move out of the home.

Like Wright, he says a lot of stupid things and Bush is as careful as Obama will be about associating himself too closely with the weirdo. Unlike Wright, Dobson is secretive and shrewd and hides from the public, but loves to name-drop in his radio addresses, bragging about calling up Bush and straightening him out regularly about the Lord’s will about this and that. Why is this not a scandal? Because it’s not a hot story. The Wright story won’t be hot in a few months either, because Obama has clearly distanced himself from his former pastor.

As if Dobson isn’t weird enough, we have Reverend John Hagee, who seems to believe that the U.S.’s main reason for existence is to supply Israel with military equipment, and a pulpit for his chubby son to practice on so he can inherit the family racket. John McCain hasn’t been asked to distance himself from this whacky supporter. Why is Obama being savaged for a similar relationship with Wright?

As others have noticed, there is a peculiar kind of coordination going on in the conservative pundits community on this and other stories. The story arrives through a blog or Youtube video or something, and then suddenly all of the conservative commentators, like a pack of jackals, dig into it and spin it the same way. I doubt they actually call each other first– it’s more like they just keep tabs on the spin of the day and join in as appropriate, and this gives the marvelous effect of the story being much bigger and far more significant than it really is. We saw that kind of spin during the Clinton impeachment, when, one after the other, they all suddenly seized on the idea that it was not the sex that was so impeachable, but the fact that he lied about it. Well, if they all say it, it must be true.

If you noticed that, you may also have noticed the coordinated approach to Hillary Clinton lately: she’s great. They love her. They thought she was crass and brassy and nannyish, but now they can see that she really is a very astute, refined woman who might make a great president. They are doing this because, as loyal Republicans, they want to be sure the Democrats put the best candidate forward in November. Right. Of course.

Very interesting. Who would the Republicans really rather have running against McCain this fall? I think conservatives think it’s Hillary, and I’m not sure they’re right. But when Irving Kristol stoops to praise Senator Clinton, you may want to dust off those Willie Horton posters. Is John McCain so lame that he would use his best weapon against Obama now? Why haven’t they gone after Clinton’s murky financial status, or feminist ideology, or flip-flops on Iraq? Because they didn’t think about it yet? Why are they even bothering to attack Obama when the primaries haven’t even ended?


Finally, Karl Rove is famous for a particular stratagem that has worked very well for failed Republican politicians: take your own greatest weakness, and accuse your opponent of having the same defect. That way, when he gets around to pointing out your biggest deficiencies, it will sound like “no, you’re a big fat liar”. The Republican responds: “I said it first!”

So you go after Kerry’s war record. You accuse the Democrats of “partisanship” during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice nominees. You claim they are trying to cheat the voters in Florida out of their votes. You accuse them of mudslinging.

And so Bush, astoundingly, attacks and blames the Democrats for the recession his administration has steered us into. Wow. That’s smart politics.

This may be the year the voters stop buying it. Maybe not. We can hope.

In the meantime, as I mourn the transmogrification of John McCain into Bush Jr. Jr., and marvel at the delusional persistence of Hillary Clinton, I observe that this is the most ridiculous and ineffective election system in the Western World. The whole thing should start in August of this year and end in November. And even that is too long.

Just How Evil is James Dobson:

(From Wikipedia)

From Wikipedia:

On June 242008, Dobson publicly criticized statements made by U.S. Presidential candidate Barack Obama in Obama’s 2006 “Call to Renewal”[65] address. Dobson stated that Obama was “distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview.”[66] On October 232008, Dobson published a “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America” that proposed that an Obama presidency would lead to: mandated homosexual teachings across all schools; the banning of firearms in entire states; the end of the Boy Scoutshome schooling, Christian school groups, Christian adoption agencies, and talk radiopornography on prime-time and daytime television; mandatory bonuses for gay soldiers; terrorist attacks across America; the nuclear bombing of Tel Aviv; the conquering of most of Eastern Europe by Russia; the end of health care for Americans over 80; out-of-control gasoline prices; and complete economic disaster in the United States, among other catastrophes.[67] In the days after the 2008 presidential election, Dobson stated on his radio program that he was mourning the Obama election, claiming that Obama supported infanticide, would be responsible for the deaths of millions of unborn children, and was “going to appoint the most liberal justices to the Supreme Court, perhaps, that we’ve ever had.”[68]

Dobson is an intelligent design supporter and has spoken at conferences supporting the subject, and frequently criticizes evolution,[69] contrary to the teachings of his Christian denomination, the Church of the Nazarene.[70] In 2007, Dobson was one of 25 evangelicals who called for the ouster of Rev. Richard Cizik from his position at the National Association of Evangelicals because Cizik had taken a stance urging evangelicals to take global warming seriously.[71]

Not This Evidence

After all the news coverage of the wrongful convictions that have been overturned with DNA evidence and the incompetent or malicious police investigators and forensic “experts” responsible, you would think the police might think twice before pulling something like this:

Michigan State Police fiber expert Guy Nutter testified Wednesday fibers found on Dickinson’s body and the pillow covering her face were consistent with those taken from a 100-percent acrylic sweatshirt police discovered at Taylor’s home in Southfield.

Graham noted Nutter’s report said no individual source of the fibers could be determined because his sweatshirt would be indistinguishable from others just like it. She used prosecution photos of Dickinson’s closet to point out a dark blue or black-hooded sweatshirt, which Nutter admitted was not tested for fiber comparisons. From Grand Rapids Press, April 2, 2008

Wow. Here we go. A “fiber expert”! Do you know what that is? Did you think that there was a college somewhere where you could go to study for four years so you could become a “fiber expert”? Or do you think this might just be some science major with a big ego and a microscope? What constitutes a “match”, do you think, of two fibers? Do you think there is some objective criteria involved, or just a lot of verbiage and charts and graphs and power point slides? How many “points” of similarity should there be? How many different chemicals used in the formulation of the material?

It turns out that the fibers– of course– were not tested until after the police had their suspect. There’s no point in testing before you have a suspect, ha ha, since you don’t use fiber evidence to find a suspect. If you did, it would find too many suspects. Think about that.

The only purpose of fiber comparisons is to prove that the suspect you already have– it could be anybody– is guilty. Since there are any number of fibers available at any given crime scene and any number of fibers available in any given suspect’s closet at any given time– this is a snap. Why don’t juries laugh this kind of evidence out of court?

Then we have this:

Michael Arntz, a former EMU police officer, testified for a second time this week about video images he pieced together during a two-week review of footage from campus surveillance cameras.

The images, played repeatedly on a projector screen Wednesday, show a man identified by several people as Taylor leaving Buell Hall shortly after 4 a.m. Dec. 13.

So Michael Arntz, an Eastern Michigan University police officer, took it upon himself to “piece together” some video footage that he and some others claim shows the suspect, Orange Taylor, leaving the residence in which Laura Dickinson’s body was later found. That is worrying. One hopes the defense team– public defenders, of course– is astute enough to demand that the district attorney either provide a single, intact continuous tape, or exclude the evidence altogether.

The defendant, the colorfully named Orange Taylor, has a serious problem. His semen was found on the body. But the door to her room was left locked from the inside, and there was no evidence of foul play. In fact, the police and medical experts have no idea of how she died. They suggest she was suffocated with a pillow. This is the second trial for Orange Taylor — the first jury couldn’t reach a verdict.

Taylor’s attorneys argued that he entered Dickinson’s dorm room the night of Dec. 13, 2006, to steal items and masturbated over her body, not realizing she was dead. His DNA was found on her inner thigh.

From Here.

It’s hard to know what to make of this case. He might be guilty of murder. It’s very hard to explain his DNA on the body if he wasn’t there, and it’s very hard to explain why he was there if he wasn’t committing a crime– he and the victim were not acquainted– and it’s hard to explain why she died if the sex was consensual.  Not all prosecutions involving dubious evidence (the fibres) are of the wrong person.

The fiber evidence should be laughed out of court.

Update:  New York Times article on a forensic scientist who committed suicide shortly after it was revealed that he had not followed correct procedures in at least some cases.

My Dissent on Stephen Truscott

I am part of a very, very small minority: I think Stephen Truscott might well have murdered Lynn Harper.  The online Canadian Encyclopedia flatly states that he was “wrongfully convicted” and that he was “exonerated” five decades later.   But the  special five-judge panel of the Court of Appeal did not exonerate him.  It “acquitted” him, because, they said, a re-trial today would not have found him guilty.  It specifically declined to assert his innocence.

It’s not an easy position to take: every single person I know who is aware of the case believes Truscott is innocent, and that he has been proven innocent.  The latter is objectively not true.

The evidence, even after all these years, is complex and confusing.  Witnesses contradicted each other.  Important physical evidence has been lost.  To explain my position, I wish to go back to the original witnesses.

The Supreme Court Ruling (1967-05-04) gives a fairly complete account of all the witness testimony.

The panel of the Court of Appeal for Ontario (2007-08-27)was probably right, in it’s recent ruling, to declare that Truscott might not today have been found guilty by a reasonable jury of the charges against him, based on the evidence offered at his original trial, some of which has now been discredited (particularly the time of death), and some of which may have been obtained through improper investigation (the examination of Truscott by a doctor without advising him or his parents that he was a suspect).  They may also have calibrated their ruling to contemporaneous public opinion which is overwhelmingly in favor of Truscott’s innocence.  Most of this opinion is reflexive of unexamined belief inspired by a kind of sentimental consensus that has developed on the issue.

But the Panel was also right to say that it could not, with any degree of certainty, pronounce him innocent.  In spite of the consensus.  That is significant.   In many cases of wrongful conviction there is clear evidence of innocence, or that someone else committed the crime.  In Truscott’s case, they decided that the evidence did not convincingly show that he could not have been guilty.

But I have three main reasons for my own uncertainty.  In summary:

  1. The weak evidence that Truscott ever passed the bridge with Harper on their way to the highway
  2. The location where Harper’s body was found
  3. The medical examination of Truscott’s penis

Truscott never testified at his original trial, as was his prerogative.  After several years of appeals, he was given the opportunity again in 1966, this time before the Supreme Court of Canada.   What is surprising is that even with time to prepare, mentally and emotionally, for what should have been a game-changing moment, he failed.  The Supreme Court, by a vote of 8-1, denied his appeal.  In their judgement they stated unequivocally that Truscott was a lousy witness in his own defense.  They did not believe him.  

Truscott’s testimony, recorded verbatim,  was extremely problematic. He was given ample opportunity to impress the court with a clear, forthright description of what actually happened the night of June 9, 1959.  This he failed to do.   If he was not with Lynn Harper in the woods at that time, he was factually somewhere else doing something else.  Facts don’t meander or vary according to circumstance.  The court was generous in offering him space to simply recount what the facts were.  This he failed to do.  He didn’t seem to have any facts independent of what he knew witnesses had said at the first trial.

Instead, he seemed to equivocate, blend, improvise, and evade. He was a bad witness in every respect.

Now, it’s clearly possible that he was nervous, confused, or even evasive in front of the Supreme Court for reasons unrelated to his guilt or innocence, but whatever the cause, he could not give a rational narrative account of how he took Lynne Harper down the road to the highway, who he passed and did not pass, how long it took, who he talked to, and then how he left her there and, as he was headed back down the road, turned around to see her get into a stranger’s car. It seemed to some of the justices that he was trying to say whatever he thought would convince them that he was innocent, instead of trusting to a real narrative of the night’s events.

By itself, this isn’t decisive… but it’s disturbing.

Truscott acknowledged to the police that he gave Lynne Harper a ride on his bike the night of her death, from a school yard at the “station” (near the town of Clinton) to the intersection of the county road and Highway #8. There was an interesting period of two days before his arrest in which Truscott circulated among his friends, who were all talking about the disappearance of Lynne Harper, and many of whom knew Truscott had been seen with her moments before she disappeared. If Truscott was guilty, his situation was precarious. He needed to know what his situation was:  how much did they know; what did they see?

Again, assuming he was guilty, it was immediately apparent that everyone knew he had given her a ride, and it was also apparent that nobody said they had seen him take her into Lawson’s Bush. Truscott acts as if he was worried that someone might have– he volunteers to some of his friends that he had gone there looking for stray calves that evening.   But he was unable to fit that activity neatly within the time-frame between his departure from the school with Lynne on his bike handlebars and his return to his home.  He also belatedly realized that the statement could be incriminating.

Later, he denied the story about the calves.

He told the police that Lynne wanted a ride to Highway 8 in order to go see some ponies.  On the night of her disappearance, he made no mention of a car picking her up to anyone.  (Today, he insists that he did.)  On the next day, asked to explain how she disappeared from his bicycle, he offered the story of the car picking her up, a 1959 Chevrolet Belair with something yellow on the back (implying it was a license plate) he claimed he could see from the bridge.  Various witnesses confirmed that it might be possible to see the colour of a license plate from the bridge, but the car would have had to turn awkwardly to display them in that manner.  The police did not think it was likely.

His story seemed to vary on the details that he thought or knew– with some certainty– could not have been known by anyone else. He never provided any details the police didn’t already know.  He claimed that a car picked up Lynne Harper at the Hwy 8 intersection but anyone could have thought of that unspecific supportive detail.   If he had seen a specific person walking nearby who was not identified by anyone else and who could confirm that he or she saw Truscott and Harper on the bicycle, he would have had a slam-dunk of an alibi.  Instead, he identified people that everyone knew were at the bridge that night (and some, including Gerry Durnin, who were not, or Arnold George who denied he was there at that time).

The second reason for my uncertainty of his innocence is the problem of the location where they found Lynne Harper’s body.  If Truscott is innocent, some person picked her up at the highway, drove off, raped and murdered her, and then turned around and brought her body back to the very area from which he had abducted her.  He took her body into Lawson’s woods and left her there to be found two days later.  That would be a remarkable.  He would certainly have been aware that people would be looking for her.  One imagines he would want to be as far away from that area as possible.

It is possible to imagine a scenario: suppose someone picked up Lynne Harper and then, for some reason, she changed her mind about running away and asked to be taken home.  And suppose it was at that point– and it would have to have been very late at night– this stranger decided to rape and murder her.

You see how strange and unlikely that would seem.

[update 2024-03-26] After telling us about a man named Alec Kalichuk who lived near Clinton and had a record of approaching young girls and committing inappropriate acts, Julian Sher writes this in his book exonerating Truscott, “Until You Are Dead”:

There is no evidence Kalichuk murdered Lynne Harper.  There is also no evidence that he did not.  His whereabouts on the evening of June 9 are unknown.  But his bizarre actions before June 9 and his rapid mental collapse afterwards suggest he was at least as likely a suspect as the boy police had scooped up and incarcerated in the Goderich jail with “lighting speed”.

Okay– seriously?  There is “no evidence that he did not”?  There is also no evidence that Truscott “did not”.

Sher is trying to offer an alternative suspect.  At any given time in any specific location, there will be people with records of inappropriate or criminal behaviors.  Sher chose Kalichuk not because there is even a little evidence he might have been involved but because he happens to be available and his known offenses have some kinship with the molestation of young girls.

Steven Truscott indisputably rode off from the school yard with Lynne Harper on his bike and was the last person to see her alive.  Only two out of numerous potential witnesses reported seeing him pass the bridge with Harper, one from distance.   He had physical injuries to his genitals that could have come from a violent rape.    He is a far, far more likely suspect  in the murder of Lynne Harper than Kalichuk.

There also is some evidence to indicate that Harper had been murdered and raped exactly where her body was found in Lawson’s woods– there seemed to be indentations where a rapist’s knees and toes would have dug into the ground.  Harper’s body showed evidence of forceful pressure into the ground, with wounds on her back. The Supreme Court gave great weight to this evidence in dismissing the idea that someone would have picked her up, raped and murdered her somewhere else, and then returned her body to the very location where people would be most likely searching for her.  They believed the evidence showing that she was raped and murdered exactly where her body was found.  It’s not completely inconceivable that she was left there after an assault in different location.  But it’s a stretch.  A big stretch.

Finally, there was the injuries to Truscott’s penis, as examined by two medical doctors after the police took him in for questioning.  (In a misstep, the police seized Truscott and held him for questioning for three hours before his father was notified).  His father was present at the examination (the police behaving properly) and it was conducted by Truscott’s own doctor.  There is little doubt about the substance of the information derived from it.  There were serious lesions, about the size of a quarter, on two sides of Truscott’s penis.  They were not bleeding at the time of examination but they were “oozing” a substance from an injury that seemed to have occurred a few days previously– the day, possibly, that Lynne Harper had disappeared.

It was somewhat ridiculously asserted that the wounds were consistent with forced penetration of a prepubescent girl’s vagina.  They might have been, but I defy any medical expert to provide that specific a cause without understanding that the police were looking for exactly that explanation.  Truscott, embarrassed, finally reluctantly claimed it was the result of excessive masturbation.  The doctor should have said, hell, that’s not an unreasonable explanation either.  But doctor John Addison continued to question Steven and his answers became ambiguous, vague, and confused.  He repeatedly implied that he “might” have done this or that, he might have wandered into a field after dropping Lynne off, he “might” have done something inappropriate.

We have no record of Addison’s interrogation and a judge rightly later blasted the police for conducting an interrogation without informing Truscott that he was a suspect and excluded Addison’s evidence, from his extended questioning of Truscott, from the trial.  Again, the justice system behaving reasonably.

I don’t think this evidence is, by itself, conclusive about Truscott’s guilt, but, together with the other evidence, it’s a factor.

That’s why, as I said, I personally might have voted –with reluctance– “not guilty”.  I think I might have concluded that he probably was guilty, but the prosecution had not made an completely convincing case.  No DNA evidence from sperm, of course, at the time.  No fingerprints found.  No witnesses– on a busy night along the county road– saw him enter the bush with Harper.  The two star witnesses for the prosecution, Jocelyne Gaudet and Arnold “Butch” George, were strikingly inconsistent– even on the stand– and sometimes almost incoherent in terms of time and place.

And what was probably the most compelling evidence to the jury, the contents of Lynne Harper’s stomach, removed two days after her murder.  Dr. John Penistan insisted, in court, that the contents indicated death sometime between 7:15 or so and 7:45 on June 9th.  He did not produce his original notes– cause enough, in my view, for a mistrial.  There is evidence that suggests he did not have nearly that specific a conclusion until after the police made it apparent that there was a limited window of opportunity for Steven Truscott, their prime suspect, to have murdered her.  In the same way, evidence about bicycle tires imprinted in the mud near the crime scene and the supposed imprint of shoes like Steven Truscott’s below the body appear to have been manipulated to implicate Truscott.

Remarkably– if it was Truscott– nobody even saw them go into the woods, though numerous children who knew both of them as school-mates were in the area.  That works in Truscott’s favor.  But I have been at the location: there is a rise in the land between the bridge over the river and Lawson’s Bush.  It is entirely likely that no one on the bridge or near it could have scene anyone ride a bike down the tractor trail towards the location where Harper’s body was found.

The problem– a big one– is that if we accept that because no witnesses reported seeing him enter the woods with Lynne Harper we have some kind of valid evidence, then the other evidence by the same witnesses testify that Truscott never rode past the bridge with Lynne Harper on his handlebars, proving that he is a liar.  Just because they didn’t see him enter the woods doesn’t mean he didn’t.   But if they did not see him pass by them– within a few feet– with Lynne Harper on his handlebars, we have to accept that he did not take her to the intersection, which means something else happened between the time he rode off from the school yard and the time he returned home, alone.

I have visited the scene of the crime.  If Truscott is guilty, as I think he probably is, it is somewhat remarkable that no one saw them go into the woods, especially given that witness varied so much on many other details.  But it would not be unreasonable to believe that they simply weren’t looking in that direction or paying attention to a pair of figures on a bicycle in the distance.

No alternative explanation for how Lynn’s body came to be found in Lawson’s bush seems convincing.  It’s difficult to explain. It’s difficult to imagine. Did a stranger– the man who picked her up at the highway– take her somewhere for a few hours and then return when none of the kids swimming or fishing in the Bayfield River (between the highway and the woods) were still around? Did he get confused and drive around and end up back where he started by mistake? Was the scientific evidence mistaken: was she raped somewhere else and then perversely returned to the area he took her from, for some grim joke?

There is one possibility I hadn’t considered when I first wrote this piece. Suppose Truscott’s story was true, and she had been picked up by a stranger in a car. Suppose that after driving some distance away (to give most of the children time to leave the bridge area and return home), the stranger began to frighten her with his behavior, or suppose she changed her mind about running away, and suppose that, in either case, she asked him to bring her back home? Suppose he did, reluctantly, and then, at the last minute, saw Lawson’s woods on the left, drove down the old farm road, and attacked her there?  Again, it’s a stretch.  If he did it early in the evening, he would certainly have been spotted.  If he did it much later, he would almost certainly have expected people to be searching for her.

A farmer who owned land adjacent to the wood where the body was found, Bob Lawson, after he heard that Lynne was missing, reported to the police that he had seen a strange car parked along the wood about 10:00 the night Lynne disappeared, and that he had exchanged words with the driver who then quickly drove away. He thought he saw a much smaller person than the driver in the passenger seat.  Not much was made of this evidence.  Off-hand, I could imagine a couple looking for a spot for a romantic interlude or other non-sinister explanations.

Nobody seemed to give much weight to this evidence.  I’m not sure why.

The only problem with this scenario is that it would have been unlikely to have gone without notice in the first few hours after Truscott left her at the highway, because of the number of witnesses, and the day light. Again, it’s possible, but…. [added April 27, 2008]

Some of the reasons that people give for believing Truscott is innocent don’t carry a lot of weight with me. Sure he has consistently maintained his innocence for all these years. Sure he actively sought a retrial (after his release) with very little to gain. Sure he seems like a very nice man. But he didn’t seriously pursue exoneration until after he was married. Did he suddenly have a passion for clearing his name? Or did the passion come from his wife, who believed his claims of innocence, and was outraged by injustice of it all? Is it possible that Stephen Truscott, before he married, at that stage of his life, felt lucky just to be free?  That he didn’t want to press his luck with a too-close re-examination of the case.  Is it equally possible he did not have faith in a justice system that had so clearly gotten it wrong?

It’s possible that his wife, who believed his claims of innocence, felt strongly about changing the verdict.  It’s possible that Truscott, knowing he really was guilty,  felt compelled to follow through with an appeal.

Truscott was only 14 at the time of Lynne Harper’s murder. But he was 5′ 7″ at the time, and 130 pounds.

As I said, I have no problem believing that Truscott might have been wrongfully convicted. Jocelyn Gaudet’s damning testimony (that Stephen had made a “date” with her to meet in Lawson’s bush, implying that when she didn’t show up, he, frustrated, sought out Lynne Harper instead) now impresses no one. The bicycle track found near the body was farcically unlikely to have come from Truscott’s bike (it was made in the mud and there had been no rain for a long time). The time of death given by the pathologist as precisely during the hour Truscott was with Harper is now disbelieved. (This testimony was initially regarded as proof she died early in the evening– while she was with Truscott. A reexamination of the evidence only proves that she could have died later. But that’s important– this evidence has been re-examined carefully because it is so pivotal to the case. She could have been killed later. At least one expert, Dr. Warren Spitz, who examined the reports 40 years later, said he “stood behind” the original autopsy conclusions.)

The testimony of the children at the river and along the road is inconsistent and unreliable. Astonishingly, it still is today! That alone deserves a book: they can’t all still be telling the truth. Their memories have become conformed to whatever version of the story they have insisted on telling again and again and again over all the years but, I repeat, they can’t possibly all be telling the truth. Either Truscott rode past the culvert with Lynne Harper on his bike and returned without her or he didn’t.

I’m never surprised to read about a case of wrongful conviction. I think the police and prosecutors often pick on the first likely suspect and build a case around him. I just read about how a man convicted of rape and murder in Mississippi and sentenced to death was recently released after DNA evidence proved that he was not the source of the sperm found on the victim’s body.

The man is black and mildly retarded. The authorities say they might still try him again, because they don’t find DNA evidence “convincing”. He might have had an accomplice. “We didn’t need DNA evidence to convict him the first time” says a state attorney.

I have very little doubt that they got the wrong man.  After making the solemn case that he acted alone and was solely responsible for the rape and murder, they magically construct a second perpetrator who left the DNA evidence.  They are clearly lying.

Did I mention that he was black?

There is nothing about the Truscott case the betrays the same insidiousness of police work.  In fact, the police appear to have behaved relatively responsibly.  They gathered evidence, had Truscott examined by a doctor, and they didn’t bully or browbeat him into a confession.  He had access to a decent lawyer.  And, as I mentioned, he had a chance to testify in front of the Supreme Court and make his case.

The DNA evidence from the Truscott case– whatever there was left of the samples they took from Lynne Harper’s body– went missing years ago and is presumed lost. That is a tragedy.  We will never know for sure if Truscott is innocent or guilty.


A few years ago I undertook a project on the Truscott evidence.  Taking the testimony of all the children and adults who gave information on where they were during the evening of June 9, 1959, I created a 3D motion graphic in Lightwave to plot everyone’s claimed movements.  I created a Truscott-and-Harper-on-a-bike avatar and moved it on a 3D map from the school down the road past Lawson’s Bush to Hwy 8, and back again while a clock showed the advancing minutes up to the end of the window of possibilities.  I had avatars for all of the known child and adult witnesses and tried my best to place them in position according to the testimony they gave at the trial (some of which, of course, was contradictory).

It was very, very difficult to make the animation work out in Truscott’s favor.  There are too many people walking or biking to the creek or from the creek to the village to give space to Truscott’s version.

I am generally very sympathetic to claims of wrongful convictions. I surprised myself when, after reading more and more about the Truscott case, I started coming to the conclusion that this case doesn’t fit the classic mold of a wrongful conviction.

Here is an interesting analysis of some of Truscott’s comments on his own case by someone convinced of his guilt. Some of his observations can easily be discounted as interpretation of language. I don’t find it difficult to believe that Truscott would use language that sometimes sounds as if it is the expression of a person who knows he is guilty simply because he has psychologically absorbed something of the public perception of his guilt. What I do find interesting is the same thing the Supreme Court found interesting when he testified to them in 1966: he didn’t have a clear narrative that gave a convincing alternative to the police theory of the sequence of events. For example, he didn’t give any information about what he said to Lynne Harper after he dropped her off at the intersection. As the gentleman observes, didn’t she say anything to him about the ponies he says she was going to see, or about hitch-hiking, or about when she was coming back?

But then, is this evidence any more compelling than the almost uniform observation by all witnesses that Truscott appeared absolutely calm and undisturbed just minutes after he allegedly raped and murdered Lynne Harper? [added February 2009]

14-year-old Gordon Logan saw Truscott and Harper pass over the bridge on the the way to the highway. If he was telling the truth, Truscott was definitely innocent.

The police thought Truscott had somehow persuaded Logan to lie for him. But some accounts claim that Logan gave his evidence to police before Lynne’s body was even found.

Added 2024-03-26

In the book “Until You Are Dead” by Julian Sher, the author argues this:  Twelve-year-old Gord Logan told the police that he saw Truscott and Harper cross the bridge on the night of June 9, 1959, as did Douglas Oates.   If they were  speaking the truth, Steven Truscott is innocent.  That’s all there is to it.

Sher thinks Logan is telling the truth for this reason:  nobody, at the time Logan told this to the police, knew that Lynne Harper was dead and her body was lying in Lawson’s Bush just down the road.   Since nobody knew Harper was even dead,  Logan, a friend of Truscott’s, would not have believed Truscott needed an alibi   He had no reason to lie.  Truscott had no reason to ask him to lie.

But Sher is wrong.  If Truscott did murder Lynne Harper, he knew that he would be suspected because Arnold “Butch” George– known to be a liar in any case– had been going around saying that Truscott took Harper into the bush, and that Truscott had gone into the bush to look for calves.  And Truscott knew that Harper’s body was there, and that the town was frantically searching for her.   The last thing he would have wanted anyone to think was that he had had any reason to go into Lawson’s Bush.   It is not unlikely that he would have told Logan that he must have seen him as he crossed the bridge and Logan must have also seen him and Harper and Logan perhaps came to believe that he did.

Even though Butch George had a reputation for dishonesty, his comments would have certainly caused Truscott considerable anxiety because, intentionally or not, he might be telling the truth.

Sher’s argument does not survive this analysis.

This is all besides another critical question:  Logan was about 640 feet away from the bridge at the time (accounts differ).  Numerous other children were at the bridge, biking to the bridge or away from the bridge, below the bridge, and swimming in the river at the time.

Douglas Oates, on the other hand, was right on the bridge, very close to where Steven and Lynne passed– if he did– and not a close friend of Truscott’s.  To this day, he is adamant that he saw Steven and Lynne pass him on the bicycle.  He has been consistent and forthright about the question.  He is probably the best evidence of all in favor of Truscott’s innocence.  But if it is possible that others on the bridge and on the county road that night did not see Truscott and Harper pass by on the bike, one is faced with the fact that some of these witnesses are simply wrong about what they saw or didn’t see.   Is Philip Burns less convincing than Oates?  I’m not sure.

Sher expends considerable emphasis on the two boys who unambiguously stated that they saw Truscott and Harper cross the bridge on Harper’s bike.  He does not list the number of people on the bridge who, when asked, said they did not see them cross the bridge.  He accuses the police of giving disproportionate weight to these witnesses but I doubt that he is immune from the reciprocal accusation: that while emphasizing that Logan and Oates must be believed even though they were children, the other children (and at least one adult, Mrs. Geiger) should not be believed.  Logan commented that “you couldn’t miss” a kid on a bike with a girl on the handle bars going by.  If he’s right, then they should not have been missed by the others on the bridge that night, but they were.

Finally, the Judge’s charge to the jury was appallingly biased and nearly, at times, incoherent.  He clearly believed Truscott was guilty and tried to facilitate that verdict from the jury by slyly raising questions about testimony favorable to the defense, and even by proposing a ridiculous theory about Truscott and Lynne actually returning from Hwy 8 before he took her into the bush and murdered her (an idiocy even the prosecution avoided).   After an objection from defense counsel, he actually repeated the same mistake.  He told the jury that precise times were not important when, in fact, they were obviously crucial to both sides.  He implied that Gaudet and Philip Burns were more reliable witnesses than Logan and Oates.

More on the Testimonies.

More on the Case

Incidentally, Truscott was “analyzed” by various psychiatrists and psychologists in prison, at the behest of the authorities that badly wanted to validate the court verdict.  It is ridiculously clear that whatever Truscott did or said was what these quacks decided a murderer would do or say.  Does anyone doubt that if he had been nervous and anxious and easily angered, they would have ejaculated with excitement:  “Ah ha!  Sure signs of guilt!”.  But Truscott was consistently calm and self-possessed.  “Ah ha!  Sure signs of psychosis!  He is a cold, calculating monster, without a heart”.  Even at the trial, the judge remarked on how chilling he found Truscott because he was calm and self-assured.

If you have ever been mistakenly impressed with the field of psychology, you should carefully review the performance of those assigned to Truscott.  They radiate incompetence, selective judgement, bias, tunnel-vision, and a kind of psychotic desire to manipulate people.  In short, like everyone else, they are vain and self-serving, and conceal, behind a façade of magical totems and symbols, delusions of grandeur.

Did you know that Truscott was administered LSD by Doctor George Scott while he was in Collins Bay Penitentiary?  Scott appeared to be convinced that Steven was guilty and was hoping to persuade him to remember murdering Harper.  Yes, that passed for psychiatry at the time.