Missing in America: Case Closed!


With all of the bad press that has befallen them recently, it’s befitting that good news has emerged from law enforcement quarters. Within the course of one week investigators resolved three historical and high profile missing child cases. Collectively, Jacob Wetterling, Laura Smither, and Brittanee Drexel were missing for more than 53-years. Unfortunately, none of the cases ended the way their families had hoped, but at least now they are secure in the knowledge that no-one is harming their children.

Jacob Wetterling

Jacob Wetterling


When Polly was still missing after 2-months I felt like I was losing my mind. Fear and anger dominated my waking hours, and nightmarish visions overwhelmed my fitful sleep. Hope became tenuous, like a taut rubber band waiting to snap. So, I can only imagine the emotional crescendo’s overwhelming Brittanee, Laura, and Jacob’s families. Of course, they are relieved to finally know the truth, and to have the answers that have eluded them these many years. However, they are also profoundly saddened by the knowledge that their children are dead. Coming to terms with their new reality will be difficult, but ultimately it will be worthwhile.


Laura Smither

Laura Smither

I believe that it’s always better to know the truth, rather than to be left grappling in the darkness of doubt. Learning that your child is dead is a harsh reality, but I believe that it is better than the false hope and unanswered questions that accompanies years or decades of not knowing. On Tuesday, September 6, at a press conference following the killer’s confession Jacob’s mother Patty said, “For us, Jacob was alive until we found him. We need to heal”.

Brittanee Drexel

Brittanee Drexel

Brittanee, Laura, and Jacob were all victims of unimaginable horror. The FBI developed information that 17-year-old Brittanee Drexel was kidnapped, gang-raped, tortured, murdered and that her remains were fed to the alligators that populate the South Carolina coast. On Thursday, September 1, a Galveston, TX grand jury handed down murder indictments against alleged serial killer William Reece after he led them to the remains of 12-year-old Laura Smither of Friendswood, Texas who he kidnapped, raped and murdered in 1997. Of course, Jacob’s killer, who remained in the community, has always been a person of interest in his case. It was only after an intrepid investigation finally put the pieces together that the authorities were able to elicit a confession in a plea deal that allows him to escape legal responsibility for the evil crimes he committed against 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling.
On a given day in the United States as many as 33,000 children are missing according to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. Think of emotions that must be surging through the families of the missing. Of course, they now know that just because a case becomes historical doesn’t mean that it has gone cold. Evolved investigative techniques and technology are shining a new light on missing child cases that are decades old and all of those families exist in the same gray area that imprisoned the families of Brittanee, Laura, and Jacob for all of these years. They all want answers, whether the kids are dead or alive. They need to know that their children are finally free from harm and exploitation.

Why I Oppose the So-Called Public Safety & Rehabilitation Act of 2016

IMG_3741I first became acutely aware of the limitations placed on crime victims in the aftermath of my daughter Polly’s 1993 kidnap, rape and murder.

Since then I have worked with legislators, victim’s rights organizations, police and prosecutors toward a day when victims achieve equity with violent felons in the criminal justice system.

California has a proud victim’s rights history. We have created a body of work that protects crime victims, allows them to retain dignity and respect as they seek justice, and feel safe after justice has been achieved. We have further ensured that criminals are held accountable for their crimes.

If Governor Brown’s so-called ‘Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016’ is passed into law, the blood, sweat, and tears of generations of crime victim advocates will be ground underfoot like an immigrant at a Trump rally as violent criminals are released onto our streets and into our neighborhoods.

The Governor has said that any felony not included in the paltry list of 23 “violent felonies”  defined in the criminal code would be a “non-violent felony” for purposes of his initiative, because the term “non-violent felony offense” is not defined in the initiative, or elsewhere in California law.

In 1982, the voters enacted Proposition 8, the Victim’s Bill of Rights, which defined and listed ‘serious felonies’. While many are not on the ‘violent felony’ list, perhaps they should be. A partial list of crimes that are not technically considered “violent,” so therefore, qualify as “non-serious, non-violent offenses” eligible for early release in the Governor’s initiative include:


  • Human Trafficking Involving Forced Labor or Services (Pen. Code 222)
  • Human Trafficking Involving Sex Acts, Obscene Matter, or Extortion (Pen. Code 236.1(b))
  • Human Trafficking Involving a Minor and Commercial Sex Acts (Pen. Code 236.1(c))
  • Pimping (Pen. Code 266h)
  • Pandering (Pen. Code 266i)
  • Transporting or Providing a Child Under Age 16 For the Purpose of a Lewd Act (Pen. Code 266j)
  • Abduction of a Minor For the Purpose of Prostitution (Pen. Code 267)

This partial list also obliterates Proposition 35, a victim’s rights bill which had the support of 81% of voters when it passed into law in 2012, and determined that human trafficking is a ‘crime against human dignity and grievous violation of basic human and civil rights.

I’m very proud to be a small part of a movement that has helped to cut California’s violent crime rate in half since my daughter was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 1993. However, according to the FBI Preliminary Uniform Crime Report for 2015, in California violent crime was up 12.9% during the first 6-months of 2015 as compared to the first 6-months of 2014. This represents the first significant rise in violent crime in more than two decades.

The lessons of the past should steer us towards ensuring lasting legacies for generations yet to be born. Instead, they are being ignored as future generations become guinea pigs for a social experiment that doomed to failure.

I want to be sure that we all understand what kind of people we are talking about here. There has been a lot of talk this morning about the power of rehabilitation, so I would like to remind you that the individual who stole, raped, and murdered my Polly had successfully completed rehabilitation and job training programs before being released from prison for serving one half of a sixteen-year-sentence for his second kidnapping. Yet three-months later my daughter was dead. Prior to being released from prison he told cellmates that when he got out he would avoid AIDS by getting a young one. You see, this sadistic psychopath’s definition of safe sex was to steal, rape and murder a twelve-year-old girl.

This may sound harsh, but ask yourself how you would feel if your child, sister, or mother became the next victim of a remorseless psychopath in a world that releases dangerous criminals onto the streets as violence again spirals out of control.

The Devil and Lorna Lax: Sympathy for the Devil

Clifford, Parents, LawyerThe Sheriff’s taskforce was briefed on Lorna’s murder twice daily. The leads all moved down the same path and every time that path led back to Clifford Fortner. There were too many discrepancies in his story. Religious tracts from Clifford’s home were found at the fort as were Clifford’s fingerprints on a teacup. On Saturday morning November 14, Lorna was seen meeting a tall pimply faced boy with a receding chin at Kent School. Inspectors suspected the boy was Clifford.


Clifford had previously admitted that he visited Lorna at her fort on Saturday morning. Among the items he described seeing at that time were the contents of her purse: two lipsticks; an eyebrow pencil; a mirror; and bus tickets. However, a high school girl who the sheriff did not identify, had the cosmetics in the purse she brought to the Tamalpais-Drake High School football game at College of Marin on Saturday evening. She unknowingly dropped the purse under the grandstands at about 8:00 p.m. The items were retrieved by Lorna. The cosmetics could not have been at Lorna’s fort on Saturday morning. The only way Clifford could have seen them in Lorna’s possession is if he had been with her late Saturday night.


On December 2, Inspectors Sears and Sargento went to the Fortner home and got Mrs. Fortner’s permission to talk to Clifford once again at Kent School, where Clifford was in the 8th grade. Inspectors Melovich and Battaglia confronted Clifford with the fact that they had the knife and that his story had discrepancies. “We brought him to the principal’s office at the school and asked him a few questions,” Inspector Battaglia said. “Then he just started talking about it, and we didn’t have to do anymore except just listen. We just let him talk and talk until we had the whole story.”


Clifford met Lorna Saturday morning and had sex with her at the fort. She told him that she would be at the Tamalpais-Drake football game that night. He saw Lorna at the game and she told him that she would be staying at the fort for the night. Clifford’s mother picked him up from the game and drove him the few short blocks home. The family watched Death Valley Days on television, and then Clifford and Norman went to bed. Still wearing his street clothes, Clifford slipped under the covers of the upper bunk in the bedroom he shared with Norman.


About midnight he crept out of bed and left for Lorna’s fort, unbeknownst to Norman or his parents. He said he had sex with Lorna again at about 1:00 or 2:00 a.m., Sunday morning. Clifford said, “All of a sudden something just came over me.” He struck Lorna over the head with a flashlight until she was unconscious. Then he got a rope near the fig tree and strung her from an overhanging branch. “He checked her pulse,” Melovich said, “and found it was still beating, even though it was weak.” He grabbed a steak knife from Lorna’s set, which she had hidden at the fort, and plunged it into her abdomen twice. He threw the knife into the bushes as her pulse weakened. He went home and crawled back into bed.


That was key, because Inspector Melovich found the bloody serrated kitchen knife in thick blackberry bushes about 15-feet from Lorna’s body the morning after the grisly discovery. The murder weapon belonged to a set of knives that Lorna had bought as a Christmas present for her parents. The Sheriff’s Department did not share that information out of fear that full disclosure would hinder the investigation.


The next morning the Fortner’s got up around 8:00 a.m. Mr. Fortner went to work and Mrs. Fortner took the children to Church, leaving only Clifford behind because he was going to a friend’s birthday party. At 10:00 a.m. he went back to see Lorna. He looked at her and knew she was dead. In a halting voice he told the Inspectors that ‘rigor mortis’ had set in. He went home, wrapped his birthday present and went to the party.

Lorna's Parents John and Amy Lax

Lorna’s Parents John and Amy Lax

On December 4, Lorna’s parents held a press conference in the living room of their modest home on Kent Avenue. Seated side by side on dining room chairs, John Lax defended his little girl in a dry, factual voice. When asked if he felt animosity toward Lorna’s admitted killer he responded quietly, “That wouldn’t help bring our girl back. We just feel empty. The only thing we want to do now is clear her name, and I think we can. We have information that Lorna did not start the club. We believe Clifford forced her into it.” Lax added bitterly, “We know that Clifford raped Lorna about four to six months ago.That was her introduction to sex.”


After a brief hesitation he continued, “He raped her, but she never told us a thing.” They learned of the rape after Lorna’s body was discovered on November 16. An 11-year-old playmate said Lorna told her about the assault, but said, “Don’t you tell anyone,” and she did not. After Lorna’s body was found the playmate told her mother, and the mother told Lorna’s parents. John and Amy, in turn, immediately reported the rape to Sheriff Mountanos.


John Lax continued, “She was only 65 pounds and physically retarded – only a child. That’s the important thing.” Lax said Lorna knew the Fortner boy. “She knew everybody in the neighborhood. She was friendly and trusting.”


“I’m trying to tell you about my little girl, the bad and the good, just as she was,” he continued. “After Clifford raped Lorna he had a power over her. He didn’t get into any trouble over it, and he was able to use the threat of exposure over Lorna.”


Then Amy Lax spoke for the first time. “We hold no grudge against him, because Lorna never held a grudge against anybody in her life.” She added, “There are other little girls Lorna’s age around here. We don’t want other families to go through what we have gone through. They can’t hurt us any more than we have been hurt, but other families could be hurt.”


Sheriff Mountanos responded that, “The report of Lorna’s rape is all hearsay. We were unable to confirm it. It was just something an 11-year-old girl told her mother, and the mother told the Laxes.” He continued, “When the Laxes told us about it, they reported it as an attempted rape, and Clifford has denied raping Lorna.”


Marin County’s first teenaged killer had found an unlikely ally in Sheriff Mountanos.

The Devil and Lorna Lax: And Then There was One

Sheriff Mountanos with Rope Used to Hang Lorna

Sheriff Mountanos with Rope Used to Hang Lorna

Sheriff Lois J. Mountanos couldn’t get out of his own way. When Lorna’s remains were discovered on November 16, 1959 the Sheriff said, “It’s a possible homicide, but we’re not ruling out suicide.” Several hours later he declared that Lorna was, “Apparently the victim of a sex maniac.” Two days after that he accused the 4’6”, 65-pound Girl Scout of being a whore, hell bent on deflowering the neighborhood boys for financial gain.


The Sheriff justified his character assassination thusly: “When several days passed and Kentfield parents expressed alarm over a possible sex maniac on the loose I decided to give out the facts of the club’s existence. This was partly to relieve the fear of other parents and partly to expose the shocking truth of what teenagers are capable of.” The Sheriff was the one who raised the possibility of a sex maniac, and it was only two days later that he made the salacious accusation that further victimized Lorna’s family by blaming the little girl for her own death.


Support for Lorna’s family evaporated like dew drops in the warm morning sun. Her parents were stunned into silence. However, next door neighbor Elizabeth Rogers was quite vocal in defense of her little friend. “Except for the possibility that an older child might have led her into it, I completely discount this business,” Mrs. Rogers declared. “I saw her daily, and she did not have those kinds of thoughts in her head.” Mrs. Rogers continued, “An older boy took Lorna to high school football games at the College of Marin field in recent weeks. He told her not to tell her parents or his about it, but she finally told her mother and father. Lorna once told me that a boy had asked her to go steady. She didn’t particularly cotton to the idea. She was too young to go steady.”


MapThe investigation focused on two men and the seven boy members of Lorna’s ‘club’. Based on Norman’s testimony that a man picked up scissors at the crime scene and put them in his pocket, Mountanos accused Fire Chief John McLaren of murdering Lorna. The Chief explained that he had exited the house with a knife to cut the rope and that his wife handed him scissors as he dashed out of the door. He said that he must have dropped the scissors at the scene only to pick it and take it home. The Sheriff took the scissors as potential evidence. No further action was taken.


The shit hit the fan over the way the seven boys were treated by Mountanos. Norman Fortner’s parents retained local attorney Thomas Boyd to represent Norman and Clifford after Kent School refused to allow Inspectors to remove Clifford from school without his parent’s permission.


At a hastily called press conference to express his anger at the Sheriff, “For the way he interrogated these boys at all hours of the night.” Mr. Boyd said, “These boys aren’t going to be interrogated anymore unless it is in my presence and in a civil way. I’m willing for the boys to undergo lie detector tests if I see the questions first. If I’m satisfied with the questions, and if I’m present. These youngsters have been questioned as though they were suspects and also for any collateral knowledge they may have of anyone else.” He continued, “They honestly don’t have any idea of who might have killed the girl, and I believe them.” Neither of the Fortner boys had, “any difficulty explaining his whereabouts on Saturday.”


Jeff Doherty’s father, a prosperous lumberman, complained to Undersheriff Eugene Mayer that his son was taken from his house and questioned without his consent. Mayer promised to bring it to the Sheriff’s attention. The lie detector tests were put on hold.

John and Amy Lax

Lorna’s parents John and Amy Lax

On Saturday, November 21 Lorna’s parents broke a week long silence to defend their little girl. Her dad described her as a “lonely but good girl. If she was involved in a sex club, it originated with the boys, not with her. Some of the boys were 16. She was only 12, and physically only 10. She weighed only 65 pounds.” Lorna’s mom, fighting back tears explained why they didn’t report her missing as soon as they saw Lorna’s note. “We were very concerned and looking for her, but we kept thinking that she would come back any minute as she always had.” They said that they did not ask her friends because they feared that would lead to embarrassing publicity. “But we realize now it was a great error,” her father said, hanging his head. “We should have reported it right away.”


With time comes clarity. By Saturday, November 28, Sheriff Mountanos announced that they had interrogated more than 50-people in the murder probe. Although progress was slow, Mountanos and his staff narrowed their focus on the boys who belonged to Lorna’s ‘club’. He said, “We’re satisfied that the killer was a juvenile, not an adult. Although at this time, of course, we are not ruling out that remote possibility.”


Slowly and systematically potential suspects were eliminated until only one remained. The inconsistencies in his story were too glaring to ignore. The Sheriff knew he had his man!

The Devil and Lorna Lax: Forget Me Not

Kent School 1958

Kent School Picture 1958: Norman Fortner top row, far right. Lorna Lax 3rd row srom top, 6th from left.

Twelve-year-old Lorna Lax was an adventurous little girl who had disappeared for extended periods of time on four separate occasions, so her mom was not overly concerned when she discovered her daughter’s note on Saturday, November 14, 1959. Bullied her entire life, Lorna would become ‘mad at the world’ when the taunts became more than she could endure. She would withdraw and take refuge in one of the forts that she built at home and around the neighborhood.


Instead of going to the city on Saturday morning as she stated in her note Lorna stayed within a few blocks of her home at 147 Kent Ave. She spent part of the morning hanging out with her friend and neighbor thirteen-year-old Norman Fortner and his fifteen-year-old brother Clifford. Lorna invited Norman to play at her fort, but he declined because he was busy with his paper route. Later that morning Lorna was seen at Kent School meeting with a tall pimply faced boy with a receding chin. Sometime around noon, Lorna rode her bike to the East side of Corte Madera Creek where she spoke briefly with Jackie Timmer, the eighth grade step-daughter of Fire Chief John McLaren. The conversation didn’t last long because Jackie was busy babysitting her seven young siblings.

Ben Hur

That evening Lorna attended a football game between Drake and Tamalpais High Schools at the College of Marin. During the game she was seen looking for dropped items under the bleachers. She left the 31-0 Tam High blowout when the game ended at 10:15. After the game, Lorna’s dad went to the stands to look for her. He knew she liked to look for things under the stands and thought he might find her there. But, he did not.


Norman Forther & Jeff Doherty after they discovered Lorna Lax' body

Norman Forther & Jeff Doherty after they discovered Lorna Lax’ body

At 3:30 pm on Monday, November 16, Norman Fortner finally did visit Lorna’s fort and discovered the carnage that had been inflicted on the petite seventh grader. He ran to the College of Marin tennis courts where he found fourteen-year-old Jeff Doherty. “Come look what I found,” he implored. After witnessing the grisly scene the boys ran to the Lax home to get help. They returned to the thicket with Amy Lax. When she saw her battered and lifeless daughter Amy nearly collapsed. Norman said, “She was hysterical and screaming for help.”


Chief McLaren was awakened from a nap, “by the wife and kids screaming.” When he realized that someone had been hanged the chief grabbed a butcher knife to cut the rope. “My wife handed me a pair of scissors on the way out the door,” he said. “I started to cut the rope, but something made me back away. I knew I was too late.”


Marin County Sheriff Louis Mountanos led the investigation into Lorna’s death. Sheriff’s Deputy Edmond Mauberret was the first officer at the scene. Inspector Mike Melovich, Identification Chief Earl Cummesky, Identification Technician Ramond Barton and Deputy Douglas Gledhill soon arrived to secure the crime scene. Inspectors Bowen Bridges and Carl Sears rounded out the investigative team.

Atomic PowerDressed only in a blue pajama top, Lorna’s unblinking hazel eyes stared upward toward the fig branch securing the noose that held her head a foot off the ground. Her legs were stuffed into one of two sleeping bags at the scene. Under the sleeping bag were a quilt, three blankets, and a peach colored chenille bedspread. None of the items came from the Lax household. Her clothing lay beside the little redhead’s body. Some in a box, and the rest were folded neatly. They included a pair of jeans, a denim jacket, blue sweatshirt, underwear, shoes and bobby sox. None were torn. Other items found in the fort included candles, silverware, plates, and soft drink bottles. The weapon used to stab Lorna was not immediately located at the scene.



Over the course of the next several hours investigators scoured the crime scene for the murder weapon. The two boys who discovered the body were questioned at length. Norman told the investigators that he saw the man at the scene pick a pair of scissors off the ground and put them in his back pocket.


After receiving an initial briefing Sheriff Mountanos said, “It’s a possible homicide, but we’re not ruling out suicide.” However, before wrapping the first day of the investigation at 11:00 p.m., the Sheriff declared that Lorna was, “Apparently the victim of a sex maniac,” before concluding that, “There’s no more we can do right now. We’ll pick it up in the morning.”



On Wednesday, November 18, Sheriff’s Inspector Bowen Bridges said, “The autopsy showed she definitely had been slain. She had been stabbed twice and the wounds were 4 ½ inches deep. As in many cases hesitation marks surrounded the wounds. She also had been beaten about the head with heavy blows.” Inspector Bridges also stated that there had been some “sexual mistreatment.” Dr. John Manwaring said the stab wounds could have caused death through internal bleeding or she could have been choked to death by the rope.

Lung Cancer

On Wednesday, November 18, Sheriff Mountanos dropped a bombshell. In a classic example of blaming the victim the Sheriff held a press conference and declared that Lorna was running a sex club out of her makeshift fort. He based the accusation on interviews with seven neighborhood boys, ages 12 through 16, including the Fortner boys and Jeff Doherty. Mountanos said Lorna, “charged an eighty-five cent initiation fee for club membership. Other charges for club members ranged from thirty-five cents to one dollar.” He said the last known tryst occurred on Saturday morning. “My theory,” the Sheriff said, “is that there was a sexual act committed without force shortly before death occurred. Whoever killed Lorna may have been afraid that she would talk.”



Lorna Lax tombstone

On Thursday, November 19, Lorna’s remains were released to the Leary Brothers Mortuary in San Francisco for private burial. The Catholic Church denied Lorna a Christian burial because she had died in ‘infamy’ so her family held a private service at the Golden Gate National Cemetery. Her last name was left off of her headstone.

The Devil and Lorna Lax: Little Girl Lost

Lorna LaxMy wife has strolled along the path at Corte Madera Creek in Kentfield, California almost every work day for the past 5-years. Occasionally, she will call to tell me that a deer has crossed her path, or that she is joining friends for lunch at one of the charming restaurants near her office. However, until recently she had no way of knowing that decades earlier, in the waning hours of November 14, 1959, twelve-year-old Lorna Jane Lax was savagely raped and murdered along this same creek bank. Violet would have felt far less secure had she known that Lorna’s killer, who lived in Marin County until his death in 2012, was never punished for the vicious, predatory crime that he confessed to having committed.


Lorna Lax was not expected to live when she was born at Children’s Hospital in San Francisco on March 27, 1947. Her mother Amy said, “She arrived in this world with not two, but four strikes against her. She was not able to feed, had a cleft palate, and a collapsed lung which required oxygen for the first four months of her life.” The cleft palate caused Lorna’s arms to be splinted so that she couldn’t put her tiny hands into her mouth. She couldn’t suck so she was fed through a tube in her nose. The staff told Amy not to visit too often. “It makes it hard on the nurses because she cries when you leave.”


EdselAfter six months her arms were liberated from the splints, she was discharged from the hospital and taken home to 636 Missouri Street in San Francisco. Over the course of the next several years John and Amy Lax focused on their daughter’s health and wellbeing. “We struggled to correct her inherent handicaps,” her mom said. “After four major operations and four years of speech therapy, Lorna could now speak almost as well as a normal eight-year-old.” In 1955, John and Amy wanted to give their tiny, eccentric child a chance at acceptance so they moved across the Golden Gate Bridge to the bucolic Marin County suburb of Kentfield.


Lorna was a 4’6″ tall, 65 pound red headed stick of a girl who attended church with her mother twice a week and earned numerous Girl Scout merit badges. She was popular in her neighborhood and liked to help her friends by staging little puppet shows or circuses. She charged the kids whatever they could afford and then bought them ice cream with the proceeds. She was an athletic girl who would rather swim than go to a movie and could occasionally be found sleeping under the stars on the neighbor’s deck.

KrushchevLorna was also a troubled child with explosive, dark secrets that she held close, too close, until it was too late. Her cleft palate had not been totally corrected so she suffered from hypernasality, a speech impediment caused when air leaks from the nose during speech. This contributed to bullying that continued even after the family moved to Kentfield. The little girl who wanted nothing more than to fit in was deeply wounded by the sharp barbs of her tormenters. She regularly returned home from school sobbing and holding a grudge against the world.


When she was eleven Lorna started leaving home for extended periods of time. One time after a quarell with her mother she was found sleeping in a bus at Kentfield’s Greyhound Station. Another time Lorna was found wrapped in a neighbor’s discarded comforter, nestled in the trees along the bank of Corte Madera Creek. In September, 1959 the police were alerted when Lorna tried to check into a Sacramento motel where she and a girlfriend hoped to attend the State Fair.


In the spring of her twelfth year Lorna began to turn inward, keeping her own counsel and closing out her parents. John and Amy sought psychiatric counseling in hopes of understanding her dark moods and reconnecting with their daughter.


Last NoteOn Saturday morning November 14, 1959 Lorna left her mother a note. “Dear Mom, I’m mad at the world, so there is only one thing I know to do and that’s get away from these seroundings. So I’m leaveing. I’ll promise to be back Sunday morning. I’m going to the city. Your daughter, Lorna Lax.”


Lorna was a devout Catholic who had not missed church since she was six-years-old, so when she had not returned home by Sunday, November 15, her parents called the police. On Monday, November 16, her friends and family began posting missing flyers in and around Kentfield.


The little redhead’s ravaged and beaten body was discovered at 3:30 Monday afternoon when her thirteen-year-old friend Norman Fortner stopped to check out the fort Lorna hacked out of the wild blackberry bushes on the bank of Corte Madera Creek, about a block from her home.


She was wearing a blue pajama top, her legs were stuffed into a sleeping bag, and her body was held erect by a rope knotted around her neck and lashed to an overhanging fig tree branch. Her head had been bashed in and she had been stabbed in the abdomen six times. Her shoes and bobby sox were placed neatly side by side next to the sleeping bag. Make no mistake: it was a scene reminiscent of Jack the Ripper.


On Monday

The Devil and Lorna Lax: Forget Me Not


They Took Our Child: We Got Her Back

In January 2015, I began informally consulting on a projected “True Crime” television series called They Took Our Child: We Got Her Back. It premieres this Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at 10:00 PM on the Lifetime Movie Network.


The one element that totally differentiates this program from all other True Crime television is that it is guaranteed to have a happy ending. Watch as victim after victim recounts their ordeal and the circumstances that enable them to escape almost certain death.


They Took Our Child: We Got Her Back tells the stories of abducted children who escaped from the hands of their kidnappers; and the families who never gave up hope on getting them home safely. Each episode features a single story, told by the formerly kidnapped child and the family members and investigators who tirelessly searched for them, according to the network. Viewers will hear about the parents’ frantic and relentless search for their child, and how they worked with law enforcement to bring them home.


The premiere episode of They Took Our Child: We Got Her Back recounts the story of kidnap survivor and KlaasKids volunteer Midsi Sanchez. Please check back to read my blog on Midsi, where we discuss the crime, life after victimization, and her experinece on this very cool new television series.

My Second Day In Court

Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her (John 8:7)”

Polly PinThey are like a demonic Penn & Teller. The perp, John Sparrow, sits silently, intently watching his lawyer, occasionally the jury, but mostly Jane Doe One, while his attorney, Steve Gallenson, brews black magic. He is able to psychologically torture and emotionally twist the young victim on the witness stand for hours under the guise of a quest for justice, and apparently there is nothing that can be done to stop it.


I wonder if these aggressive tactics serve his client. The jury has to notice the smug look on their faces as the young witness struggles to maintain her composure. What does he expect to find at the end of this brutal line of questioning? A tortured soul laid bare, with no recourse but to be harshly judged for having been victimized by sexual predator?


I question how and why the defense can lay a victim’s deepest and darkest secrets at the feet of the jury without consideration of the consequences, when that same jury is not allowed to know that the defendant has already been convicted of these crimes once before.


Finally, the torturous line of questioning ends. She spent a day on the stand justifying her own existence, having her past exposed like an onion, layer by layer. She was brave on the stand: her voice didn’t waver and her gaze didn’t drop. However, after she was excused and when she was finally out of eyesight of the jury she broke down in cascading waves of despair. She was so sad, seemingly broken.


I met Jane Doe One and Two before they testified. Independently, I gave them each a Polly Pin, like the one I wear on my lapel. I told them a little bit about her story, because neither of them were alive yet when Polly was murdered. I told them that as her worst fears were being realized: as the kidnapper was stealing her into the night, her last words were, “Please don’t hurt my mother and sister.” I told them that if Polly could find the courage to put others ahead of herself as she realized her worst fears, then they could find the strength to stand up to the defense attorney’s psychological Blitz Krieg. Jane Doe Two wore Polly’s pin on the stand, above her heart. Jane Doe One kept it clutched in her hand as she answered every question put to her with courage and strength. I like to think that over the course of the last two days Polly’s spirit helped them to navigate the murky waters of America’s criminal justice system.

My Day In Court

Seal_of_CaliforniaI spent the day at the Sonoma County Superior Court in support of two young women who were facing their molester in court for the second time. On Oct. 11, 2013, 55-year old John Sparrow was found guilty of twelve felonies involving the sexual molestation of two minor victims under the age of 14.


In 2013, both victims weathered the indignity of testifying to terrible crimes committed against them when they were young girls in front of a room full of total strangers. When they left the court room, emotionally and physically drained from sharing their personal nightmares, they had full confidence that Sparrow would spend the next several decades behind bars. However, less than a year later Sparrow was granted a new trial on grounds of ineffective assistance from his first lawyer. Lawyers may be the only profession that regularly throws its own under the bus in the quest for more business: or is it perverted justice?


The case is simple enough. Jane Doe One was Sparrow’s neighbor, having moved into his neighborhood when she was only 8-years-old. He began molesting her at 11, and continued to molest her for the next five years. She said that she told no-one because he made her feel like the molestations were her fault. She was afraid that if anyone found out that she was doing something wrong, she would get in trouble.


The molestations always started with a shoulder rub, because Sparrow is a certified massage therapist, but over time they escalated to graphic and overt sex crimes. When Jane Doe One was 16-years old she and Jane Doe Two, who is two years younger, went to Sparrow’s house to smoke pot and eat magic mushrooms. Some hours later Sparrow gave Jane Dow Two one of his infamous sex-massages, and when he slid down her bra strap and put his hand on her breast she stopped him, got her friend and went to the authorities. Thus ended (at least we hope) a pedophile’s career.


The defense doesn’t contest that Sparrow gave his legally procured medical marijuana to young girls, that he supplied them with hallucinogenic drugs, that he took the children into the woods to trip, or that he couldn’t keep his hands off of them. What they do deny is that any sexual molestation ever occurred.


In his opening statement Sparrow’s new lawyer, Steve Gallenson, said that the girls fabricated the molestations. The first witness, Jane Doe Two, was brought to tears on several occasions as she was forced by Gallenson to recount her ordeal in excruciating detail. He tried and tried to trip her up by pointing out minor inconsistencies over several testimonies, interviews, and third party reports. However, she held her ground, refusing to be bullied by a lawyer who will settle for nothing less than 100% recall about the worst trauma of her young life that occurred while she was high on pot and hallucinogenic mushrooms. I thought that she did an amazing job.


When Jane Doe One took the stand you could hear a pin drop in the courtroom. After recounting her history of being molested by Sparrow at the direction of Assistant District Attorney Tania Partida, Gallenson attacked again. He, and his client, forced her to recount the details of 5-years of sex crimes in front of total strangers. During the first two-hours of her testimony she refused to look at Sparrow, just as he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of her. The bitter irony is that in her mind and in the courtroom Jane Doe One is being continually re-victimized at the same time that Sparrow, in his mind and in the courtroom, is continually re-victimizing her.


I wonder what kind of ambiguous and skewed morality allows a lawyer to attack children in a courtroom and bring them to tears time and time again, as he defends the indefensible.