Saturday, June 30, 2012

Always Check Their Medical License

With the Supreme Court's affirmative ruling on the Affordable Care Act, or as others call it Obamacare, I searched for a crime story on a medical topic. My files bulge with stories I wrote on medical malpractice lawsuits, pill-pushing doctors who harmed, a son who had his mother's head cut off and frozen, and a serial-killer RN, whom I bought a steak dinner in efforts to get him to unwittingly admit his murders. Catching my eye, however, was a strange medical story I wrote in 1981 in Southern California, which appears below, with names of victims redacted.

A 15-year-old girl has been arrested for impersonating a doctor and telling a man his wife might die in surgery, police reported.

The girl, who police say could pass for a 26-year-old, allegedly donned a lab coat and stethoscope and introduced herself as a physician to the husband of a patient who was in surgery.

"I just about collapsed," recalled the husband, whose wife of four months had been rushed to the hospital for tubal pregnancy that required surgery.

The husband said his wife's parents were with him in the hospital's lobby when a person in a lab coat walked up.

She identified herself as a doctor and talked to the family about medicine and religion. The husband told her that his wife was in surgery and the girl said she knew, that she was one of the surgeons involved.

"Everything was going fine," she told him.

Minutes later the girl made a phony telephone call to check on the wife's condition. "Give her three units of blood and get five doctors over here right now," she said loudly into the phone.

The family overhead it, and the husband raced over to see what had happened.
"Just pray, just pray," the girl told him. "There is something wrong with her heart." Then she left.

For the next half hour family members were in anguish. The husband said that only his father-in-law was skeptical because the girl had also mentioned "a car wreck," and a "man was decapitated and his head landed in the back seat."

Later, the husband said he saw the girl in the lobby and asked about his wife's condition. When the girl acted as if she didn't know him, he called security.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

War Room Reading

While recently (hand) transcribing hours of taped interviews I did with combat veterans of the Army and Marines right after they returned to "the world" from Vietnam about forty years ago for my new book, "Back In Saigon," I got to wondering what I might include on an all-time favorite list of war books.

Because when I am not writing I'm reading, I thought I might share this list with readers of No Shilly-Shally. I've limited the list to a maximum of three titles from a war, which means some great books have been left off, like Joachim C. Fest's "Hitler" and Patton's biography by Ladislas Farago, and William L. Shirer's remarkable "The Nightmare Years" (leading up to WWII). Also I have not ranked them in any order, say best, next best and so on.

Hope you like these reads.

Civil War:

"Cold Mountain" by Charles Frazier (1997), Shelby Foote, "Shiloh," (1952), and Michael Shaara, "The Killer Angels," (1974).

First World War:

Erich Maria Remarque, "All Quiet On The Western Front" (1928), Ernest Hemingway, "A Farewell To Arms," (1929), and "Silent Night," by Stanley Weintraub (2002).

Second World War:

John Toland, "The Last 100 Days," (1965), Rick Atkinson, "An Army At Dawn," (2002), and "From Here To Eternity" by James Jones, (1951).

Korean War:

David Halberstam,"The Coldest Winter," (2007).

Vietnam War:

Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," (1990), Rick Atkinson, "The Long Gray Line," (1989), and "Perfect Spy" by Larry Berman, (2007).

If you want an authoritative work on the hunt for Osama bin Laden, I recommend Peter L. Bergen's "Man Hunt," (2012). For dramatic details of the killing of bin Laden by members of SEAL Team Six, see Chuck Pfarrer's book, "Seal Target Geronimo," (2011). (While it presents the most vivid account of what happened inside the bin Laden compound, much of Pfarrer's account must be taken on faith because as he explains his sources are inside the black ops establishment. I also noted with interest that Bergen did not cite Pfarrer's book in his eleven-page bibliography of secondary sources and interviews. Perhaps it was simply a timing issue, with the books coming out so close together. Although, Bergen does cite other works published in 2011 in the bibliography. Was Bergen making a statement on the Pfarrer book by not mentioning it? A close reading of Bergen's details on what happened inside the compound appear not to have relied at all on Pfarrer's book, so that might explain the ommission. In any event, I recommend both books for anyone wanting the inside story on America's greatest search and destroy mission.

Now for my three favorite war books:

Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom The Bell Tolls," "All Quiet On The Western Front," and "The Long Grey Line." All riveting, as they say.

What's on your list?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Nothing Amusing At This Park

In the 1980s Disneyland, the land of fun, magic and enchantment in Anaheim, California experienced the park's first murder. I covered it as a newspaper reporter and followed the case for years. A second-degree murder conviction was won by Orange County prosecutors against the killer, who had stabbed a young man during a fight in Tomorrowland.

What follows is a section of a fictional account I wrote of the incident, which I set at Marineland in the 1970s. For background, the main character, a retired coroner's investigator, is trying to find out why a young man named Joey had killed himself years after the murder. The main character has gone to Los Angeles to read a court transcript of Joey's testimony at the killer's trial.

(From "The Collector" by R.D. Byron-Smith, available at; Barnes & Noble; Apple and Sony books and others (c) 2012.)

Suicide. And, Joey’s over a girl. Lost young love, and then death.

I had seen it often enough over the years at the coroner’s office. And, you know what was common? Once a youth made his mind up to take his own life, he enjoyed an inner peace. He gifted personal items to his best friends: a favorite music compact disc here, a jersey he had worn to baseball games there; things he loved, he could no longer love, so someone else should. I saw it time after time. Yet, Joey’s story gnawed at me, kept me awake, tossing in bed nights, wanting to know what had happened. Finally, Agnes told me that either I had to sleep in the guest room or she would because I was spoiling her nightly rest. We hadn’t slept but a few nights apart in fifty years. I had to lay this thing to rest.

That is when I found myself one morning on the Los Angeles Freeway driving west from Palm Springs. I had found the criminal case number in the Los Angeles County Superior Court index for 1972. I had called the clerk in the court’s archives and had asked that the file be located for my review.

“Your in luck,” said the clerk, an African-American wearing a T-shirt with a hip-hop star emblazed on it. “Here’s the disc and there is a note that it includes the trial transcript. Most don’t. It’s your lucky day, Pop.”

I took the disc to a seating area where you can review court records on a computer and looked through them, carefully. I found the trial transcript and the testimony I wanted: “Examination of Joey Maxwell, Los Angeles County Superior Court, June 10, 1973,” his questioning by a Mr. Gibson of the Los Angeles County D.A.’s office.

Mr. Gibson: “How long had you known the deceased?”

Mr. Maxwell: “All of my life. We went through school together.”

Mr. Gibson: “Would you say that Daniel Darrow was your best friend?”

Mr. Maxwell: “I would.”

Mrs. Dallas: “Objection your honor; relevance.”

Court: “Mr. Gibson, I don’t see what relevance his friendship has. Motion by the defense, sustained.”

Mr. Gibson: “Thank you, your honor. Now, Mr. Maxwell. Did you and Mr. Darrow go to Marineland on February 2 of last year?”

Mr. Maxwell: “Yeah, sir.”

Mr. Gibson: “May I approach the witness, your honor?”

Court: “Yes.”

Mr. Gibson: “I am handing the witness a photograph marked prosecution exhibit No. 27. Mr. Maxwell, have you ever seen this picture before?”

Mr. Maxwell: “Yeah, Danny and me at Marineland. A man took it for me with my camera. The big whale sign’s over us.”

Mr. Gibson: “It shows you and the deceased at the entrance of Marineland, is that correct?”

Mr. Maxwell: “Yeah.”

Mr. Gibson: “Does the photo have a date on it?”

Mr. Maxwell: “2-2-72.”

I skimmed twenty more pages, scrolling the computer screen. Then I found what I wanted.

Mr. Gibson: “What happened when you got to the dolphin show amphitheater?”

Mr. Maxwell: “Danny and me was moving along and there was lots of people jammed up-like, going in. And we was all pushed together.”

Mr. Gibson: “Just to be clear, Mr. Maxwell, are you saying people were bunched together closely like you might be in a crowded elevator?”

Mr. Maxwell: “That’s a good way to say it.”

Mrs. Dallas: “Objection, your honor, the defense would like the witness to testify, not the prosecution.”

Court: “Mr. Gibson please restrict your leading.”

Mr. Gibson: “Yes, your honor. Mr. Maxwell, what happened next?”

Mr. Maxwell: “This girl started screaming.”

Mr. Gibson: “What was she screaming?”

Mr. Maxwell: “She was pointing at Danny and yelling he touched her.”

Mr. Gibson: “What exactly did she yell?”

Mr. Maxwell: (Long pause). “You grabbed my ass, you shit!”

Mr. Gibson: “Then what happened?”

Mr. Maxwell: “He came running at Danny and pushed him and . . .”

Mr. Gibson: “Let me stop you there. You say ‘He.’ Do you see this person in the courtroom?”

Mr. Maxwell: “Him.”

Mr. Gibson: “Your honor the record should reflect that the witness has identified the defendant as the person who pushed Danny.”

Court: “So it will, proceed.”

Mr. Gibson: “Did you hear the defendant, Mr. Drexler, say anything when you saw him push Danny.”

Mr. Maxwell: “Yeah.” (Pause.)

Mr. Gibson: “What did he say?”

Mr. Maxwell: (Pause). “You m...f... you touched my woman’s ass. You m... f...! Like that. He shouted it mad-like.”

Mr. Gibson: “Then what happened?”

Mr. Maxwell: “Danny fell backwards on the cement. And I pushed him.”

Mr. Gibson: “You pushed who, Danny?”

Mr. Maxwell: “No, I pushed that guy back from Danny. And Danny says, ‘Stay out of it, Joey. I’ll beat him by myself and he got up. And he could of, if he didn’t have a knife.”

Mrs. Dallas: “Objection. Your honor, I doubt whether the jury is getting a clear picture here of this witness’s testimony. I know I don’t know if the victim had a knife or who had a knife.”

Mr. Maxwell: “Your guy had the knife!”

Court: “Please, Mr. Maxwell. Speak only in answering a question. The jury will disregard that last statement. Mr. Gibson the court is going to rely on you to clear up any confusion. Please continue your examination.”

Mr. Gibson. “OK, Mr. Maxwell, you have testified that the defendant pushed the victim and Danny fell to the ground and then you pushed the defendant, correct?”

Mr. Maxwell: “Yeah, that’s how it all happened.”

Mr. Gibson: “You testified that Danny then told you to stay out of it, right?”

Mr. Maxwell: “Yeah.”

Mr. Gibson: “Then what happened.”

Mr. Maxwell: “Danny jumps up and slugs this guy in the face and he falls back against people. And Danny jumps on him and hit him in the head two, three times. Danny was a good fighter. Next thing I knows Danny is yelling that he has a knife and is cut. Danny turns ’round and looks at me and his white T-shirt is all bloody on his chest and he falls over on the ground. And this guy and his girl run away.”

Mr. Gibson: “Just so that we are clear, are you testifying that Danny said the defendant, here, Mr. Drexler, had a knife?”

Mr. Maxwell: “That is what he said and was stabbed.”

Mr. Gibson: “Your honor, this might be a good time for our afternoon break.”

I stopped reading the trial transcript. It was two-thirty in the afternoon and I had to get back to Palm Springs. Driving home I thought how wastefully tragic: a young man had been murdered for touching a girl’s tushie. I had two hours to concoct a cover story about why I had gone into Los Angeles.

Agnes already thought I had gone batty over this “Joey thing,” as she called it.
Later at home, I looked hard at the photo of Joey and Danny under the fluke of the Marineland whale, the photo that had fallen out of the scrapbook. Danny smiling broadly in his still-clean, white T-shirt, and Joey, the skinnier kid whose red, short-cropped hair clashed with the hippies of the seventies, both standing in the sunlight, warmed by it, neither knowing their fate hours ahead inside that celebrated park. And, I thought of the storm, and of Jonah.

Reach the author at

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Back In Saigon is my latest book, a novella of 35,000 words, and available at Amazon; later at Barnes & Noble and the Apple store, and other booksellers. The story was inspired by a journalist friend of mine who returned to Vietnam in seach of his birth mother. He had been airlifted out forty years ago as Saigon fell to the Vietcong. Readers might be interested to know that the battlefield scenes are from real firefights told to me four decades ago by American troops, returning from Vietnam. Their accounts have never been published before. Readers generally expect to find supernatural forces at work in my novels and this one shouldn't disappoint them.

Nota bene: Watch my booklist on Amazon (and on because from time to time I give my novels away for zip. Though I certainly don't mind pocketing a little cash for all this mind-wrenching work, what's most important is that the books get read by you.

In the days ahead check back here because I plan to write about the law and crime, and some fascinating cases you have never heard of before. Believe me, after listening to pompous judges, bloviating lawyers, good and bad cops and mindless criminals for more than forty years, there is plenty I want to say.

R.D. Byron-Smith