Grave Situation

Grave Situation

I have been wrestling with technology, slowly, but surely beating it into submission. Afterall one shouldn’t be ruled by machines. Yesterday, our new desktop PC arrived early. I unpacked it and began setting up. I hit a snag when I realized that our old monitor’s VGA cable was not supported by the new machine. A trip to the Micro Center was in order. Even in non-pandemic times this store is dangerous. Not so much to your health as to your wallet. Tomorrow is when my vaccine is supposed to achieve immunity, but I decided to chance it and jump the gun by a couple of days. The store was crowded and reeked of geek. Everyone was wearing masks, but between the crowd and the store’s narrow aisles, six feet was asking too much. Vaccine don’t fail me now. I found the connector aisle and a helpful clerk was ready and waiting to help. He called for backup and between the two of them I was soon on my way to checkout, with my new VGA to HDMI converter in hand.

Returning home, I plugged it in, booted the new machine and was good to go. I spent much of the rest of the day configuring the new machine to operate like the old one did. A lot of this task involved restoring bookmarks to all of my favorite websites. Anne and I share our two computers and in order to stay out of each other’s business I use the Microsoft Edge browser and she uses Google Chrome. So, imagine my chagrin today, after spending hours yesterday restoring my old links, when with a push of a button Anne restores all of her old favorites at once. That’s technology for you.

My other complaint about technology involves this website. For months now WordPress has been modernizing the behind-the-scenes workings of this blog. You never see any of this stuff, but I do. Systematically, they have been removing functionality that I like and replacing it with a newer, but dumbed down version. Their latest blow has been the removal of the dashboard. This was a webpage that afforded me control over all aspects of this blog. I will mourn its demise. VGA cabling, WordPress dashboards, what’s next to die?

The Dig

Sutton Hoo Helmet

A few years ago, when we visited London, we spent a day at the British Museum. After our visit I came away with the opinion that if any indigenous peoples, anywhere in the world, were ever missing any of their valuable cultural artifacts, the British Museum would good be a good place to begin looking for them. However, one of the museum’s most valued artifacts was not looted from some faraway land, but was discovered less than a hundred miles distant, in neighboring Suffolk, England. During the summer of 1939, on the eve of World War II, an amazing archeological find was made. An Angle-Saxon hoard was discovered, beneath a mound, on the country estate of Edith Pretty, nestled in the remains of a ninety-foot long boat. The most famous item from that hoard is the pictured Sutton Hoo helmet. A replica of this helmet was later fashioned by the Royal Armory that gives one a better idea of how it originally looked.

Sutton Hoo Helmet Replica

Netflix has just dropped a new movie that portrays the events of 1939 at Sutton Hoo. Called The Dig, it stars Ralph Fiennes, who plays the middleclass Basil Brown, an amateur archeologist who unearthed this treasure. Ms. Pretty held a life-long fascination for archelogy, in particular for the mounds that dotted her estate. She hired Brown to excavate them. Pictured below is a contemporary photograph of the dig. After more than a thousand years, the pictured outline of the long ship is little more than an impression in the sand, but Brown was able to uncover it and bring it once more to light.

Excavated Sutton Hoo Long Boat

The initial part of the movie covers the initial discovery of the long ship and is primarily fueled by the mystery of the unknown and the excitement involved in piercing it. After the boat is unearthed the British Museum catches wind of this find, arrives onsite and proceeds to take over things. In the movie Brown is initially pushed aside by these professionals, but an account of the events of that summer on the official Sutton Hoo website offers a more nuanced description of their relationship. It is in this portion of the movie that the hoard is found. The rivalry between the local Ipswich museum and the British museum is accurate. This conflict came to head at an inquest that held that the hoard was the property of Ms. Pretty. This rivalry became moot when Pretty decided to donate all to the British Museum. Rising above all of these petty professional jealousy’s are the twin themes of the panorama of history and an individual’s place in that picture. Set on the eve of war, these people are trying to find their place in the world.

Trials and Tribulations

Saint Louis County Courthouse

In December of 2012 I served on a jury. The case was statutory rape. Other than the defendant and the victim, everyone else in the courtroom was white. The prosecution could not narrow down when this rape occurred any closer than the 5-10 years, between when the defendant first turned 18 and his niece, the victim, eventually turned 18. The definition of statutory rape. Fuzzy timeline and he said, she said case aside, his case boiled down to a confession. This confession had been videotaped. I’m sure that the prosecutor had intended that the jury only watch the last half-hour of this interrogation, but the defendant had hired one of those high-priced TV advertising lawyers and I’m sure that before we were seated this attorney had got the judge to rule that we had to watch the full four and a half hours. Enduring this interrogation, we came to reasonably doubt the state’s case. We unanimously acquitted. A year and a half later Ferguson exploded, exposing the racist corruption that was prevalent in Saint Louis County government. At the next election, I helped to vote out the old prosecutor and his staff.

This is a story that I have told before and is preamble here, because at the time, I was working with Chris. Chris and I were a bit of oil and water. He knew more about our assignment than I, but I was at least nominally in charge. At least my work retelling of my case got him to open up about his own life altering event.

In 1987 the worse mass murder that has happened in Saint Louis occurred on a Friday in June. A National grocery store on Natural Bridge had just closed for the night. The store was already locked, but the security guard unlocked the door to allow the two-man night cleaning crew to enter. They were not the normal cleaning crew, but heck it was Friday. These two men drew guns, overcame the guard and quickly ushered most of the staff into a side aisle, away from the windows, where they were forced to lie in a row, face down. These men then began to execution style kill the grocery store workers.

Five people were killed and two more wounded. At the time, Chris was a young stock boy and had been in the storeroom at the back when the gunshots began to ring out. Reacting, he and another guy in the backroom went right, climbed a ladder to the roof and were eventually able to get people on the street to call the police. A third guy went left and became one of the seven victims. The two perps were captured, convicted and are still serving time. Chris testified at their trial. The prosecutor told him that by testifying, he would never serve on a jury. 

Murder She Wrote

Stock Photo by JJ Jordan on Unsplash¹

In 2004, I was sitting next to John in our weekly staff meeting. I presented some of my work and he was rather complementary of it. He was a respected retiree who had come back to work as a consultant. The next day he was poisoned.

Even though he presented to the ER that night and claimed he had been poisoned and had purportedly implicated his girlfriend, Tamara—for more than sixteen months, the local Chesterfield police struggled to unravel the mystery surrounding his death. I think that the Keystone cops could have done a better job of detecting than these guys did.

I worked with John, but really only interacted with him in those staff meeting, which were real three-hour tours. I met Tamara only once at an office Christmas party. She was thin, blonde and a little wild. I later learned that she was also the owner-operator of Metro Pawn on the Rock Road. It was also alleged that her family was the same organized crime family that had been involved with a series of car bombs here in Saint Louis during the early eighties, but that’s only gossip.

John’s son kept pushing the police to do their job. I heard thirdhand that while at his father’s house, months after his death, a detective noticed a tall glass with dried residue in it. The detective asked John’s son, “Do you think that that was the glass that poisoned him?” Certainly not CSI—more Keystone. Eventually though, they put two-and-two together and issued a murder arrest warrant for her. She must have know that they were closing in, because when they went to her home to serve the warrant, they found her dead by her own hand.

Why did she do it? Police theorized that she killed him, because John wanted to breakup and was going cut her off financially. Arsenic was used as the poison, but instead of poisoning him gradually, the way it is usually done with this poison, she chose to do it all at once. Two more “health shakes” were later found in his fridge, in case the first one didn’t do the job. But why did she kill herself. Nothing up until then would have indicated that the police would have secured a conviction. They even opted to only charge her with murder in the second degree, because they couldn’t even convince themselves that she wanted to kill him and not just scare him, but how “scaring” John by nearly poisoning him would have had any desirable effect beats me. John’s son thought that she took her own life to protect her daughter, who was also living with John and could have had some involvement. I guess we’ll never know.

  1. This is a stock photo, using a model and has only visual relevance.