An Act of Moral Cowardice

Petaluma’s Polly Klaas Foundation was honored by the US Dept. of Justice this week, being named the 2011 Missing Children Nonprofit of the year by the United States Department of Justice’ Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

In Oct. 1993, Violet and I founded the Polly Klaas Foundation (PKF) to protect ourselves from potential speculation that we would misappropriate money donated to help find Polly, who had been kidnapped on Oct. 1. Upon learning of Polly’s tragic death on Dec. 4, it was our intention to lobby for laws that would protect children, use the remaining $283,000 to help find other missing children, and continue fundraising. On October 21, 1994, without my knowledge or permission, the PKF board of directors secured a trademark for the name Polly Klaas. In November 1994, in an act of stunning moral cowardice, the board of directors of the PKF voted me off the board during a secret meeting that I was not privy to. When they informed me via telephone I felt as if I had lost my daughter yet again. Violet and I were no longer welcome at the Foundation that we had created and hoped would become Polly’s legacy.

In September, 1994 several events foretold our rocky path and lonely crusade. On the 13th I stood on the podium with President Clinton on the White House south lawn when he signed The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The President gave me the first pen that he used to sign the bill. Among other things the Crime Bill provided for 100,000 new cops, allocated $6.1-billion in prevention funds for at risk children, and nearly $10-billion for prison construction costs.

Days later the board of directors informed me that I would no longer be allowed to pursue criminal justice legislation, arguing that a non-profit organization is prohibited from advocating for new laws. They knew that this was not true and continued supporting and promoting legislation long after they gave me the boot.

Before the month was out I had submitted a separate non-profit application to create the KlaasKids Foundation, from which to lobby, advocate and promote legislation. The PKF board said that I had created a conflict of interest by finding an avenue that would allow me to pursue goals that they forbade me from pursuing. This became the justification for kicking me out of the Polly Klaas Foundation. Ironically, one of the stated goals on the Polly Klaas Foundation’s current mission statement is to effect legislation which, “Will ensure that children can be safe in their own homes and communities.”

When Violet and I were shown the door we had $2,000, a fledgling non-profit that would become the KlaasKids Foundation and sense of urgency. We believed that there was no time to lose, because otherwise everyone would forget. We struggled. She worked a regular job, I volunteered my time. We lived frugally, turning our home into an office, with a small loft devoted to personal space. We worked 18-hour days writing, advocating, traveling and otherwise pursuing our window of opportunity. Fortunately, our voice was being heard on television, radio, in the op-ed pages of newspapers and at KlaasKids events throughout the country.

As KlaasKids built a solid reputation for action and accomplishment the PKF struggled. With just a few months of operating expenses left in their account, they launched a high profile car donation program. For the next several years a confused public donated millions of dollars worth of vehicles as the PKF produced minimal results.

How do I know this to be true? Because over the past two days many people, even some that I have known for years, congratulated me for the OJJDP recognition as the 2011 Missing Children Nonprofit of the year. 

The KlaasKids Foundation may not have won any awards, but I will stack our accomplishments up against any other missing children’s NPO. Below I have outlined some of KlaasKids 2010 accomplishments. I have left off our Print-A-Thon programs and the tens of thousands of free Child ID Kits that we distribute throughout the year.

·        KlaasKids offers multiple levels of support for the missing and their families. From grassroots search-and-rescue assistance, to human trafficking intervention; from legislative support to providing experts to the media, KlaasKids remains at the forefront of safety innovation and proactive advocacy.
  • In 2010, KlaasKids’ search and rescue efforts provided assistance in 86 cases. Our search center has also played an active role in 33 missing person/trafficking cases. Of those, eight out of nine children were rescued from human trafficking. In the other 25 cases, nine were safely located, four were recovered, and 12 remain missing.
  • KlaasKids actively advocated for California’s Chelsea’s Law, which increases prison time, prohibits sex offenders from entering parks frequented by children, and increases use of trackable GPS devices to monitor paroled offenders.
  • We also supported California laws AB 33, which requires law enforcement to establish written procedures on how to handle missing child cases;
  • AB 34, which will reduce the time to notify the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and California’s Violent Crime Information Center (VCIC) from four hours to two;
  • AB 1022, which establishes a position in the Department of Justice for a new director to oversee missing children recovery processes.
  • KlaasKids also continues to work with the Flying J chain of truck stops to bring a broadcast quality suite of television options to America’s 2,000,000-plus long haul truck drivers, so that they can become an army of first responders whenever a televised Amber Alert is issued in the United States. 
  • In September, KlaasKids initiated a lawsuit against California’s Department of Mental Health (DMH) for releasing tens of thousands of potential sexually violent predators in violation of Jessica’s Law, which was passed in 2006 Jessica’s Law mandates that, prior to release from prison, violent sex offenders who meet certain offense criteria be evaluated in person by two expert psychiatrists or psychologists. If the experts agree that the prisoner is a violent sexual predator with a high risk of reoffending, they must be referred to the District Attorney for civil commitment proceedings. However, in many cases since 2007, the DMH has provided only a cursory “paper screening,” or records review, of potential predators by only one mental health professional in lieu of an expert panel in-person evaluation.
  • On the proactive front, KlaasKids long-standing relationship with Fight Crime: Invest in Kids has paid great dividends. As you will read in this edition, the California branch of this national non-profit organization, led by more than 400 police chiefs, sheriffs, district attorneys, and crime survivors, has ensured that California is the nation’s leader in supporting after-school programs.

The Devil Next Door

From the killers Facebook page

Who rolled out the red carpet for this monster? 9-year-old Aliahna Lemmon is dead. Her babysitter, 39-year-old Michael Plumadore, has been arrested for murdering her.

From the killers MySpace page

But, it gets worse: much worse. Despite having three felony convictions for battery, auto theft and forgery, Plumadore was deemed fit to not only care for, but have unsupervised access to three defenseless young girls. According to Aliahna’s grandmother Aliahna and her two six-year-old sisters were staying with Plumadore for about a week because Aliahna’s stepfather works at night and sleeps during the day and her mother was recovering from the flu. Plumadore was the last person to see Aliahna, who suffered from both physical and emotional problems, alive.

Aliahna was reported missing on 12/23, and on 12/26 Plumadore admitted that he killed her by “striking her in the head multiple times with a brick while she was standing on the front steps of his residence.” He subsequently dismembered her body by cutting it up with a hacksaw and placed small pieces of her body in freezer bags and disposed of them in a dumpster located nearby. Finally, he kept her head, feet and hands in the freezer at home.
Defense attorneys love to point out that our prisons are filled with individuals who have been caught in indiscretions. That hard luck men and women have been driven by circumstance to commit crimes. However, as this and so many other cases point out, the truth is much harsher and more difficult to accept: evil exists! There are certain individuals with a propensity to victimize others. Many of these individuals go through their lives committing crime after crime after crime with no consequence for their actions. Occasionally, they will get caught breaking the law. Then the criminal justice system will work with them to mitigate the nature of the crime, allow them to plea down to a lesser offense, and oftentimes escape prison altogether. This is why individuals with horrific criminal pasts are walking free to commit these horrific atrocities.
I know all too well the horror of losing a child to violence, but what was Aliahana’s mother thinking when she allowed her three daughter to stay with Plumadore for a week? Did she know that he was a three time loser? Surely, she knew that their trailer park was a haven for registered sex offenders. I understand that she was getting over the flu, but that does not justify shirking her parental responsibility. At best it provides a pitiful excuse.
It is our responsibility as adults to ensure the safety and well being of children. In cases where families fail government agencies are supposed to step in and fill the gap. Her mother sent her to sleep with the devil and government failed to protect her from a three time loser.   In Aliahna’s case both family and government failed and the result is a horror beyond imagination.
As government budgets are cut dramatically the release of vicious criminals is easily justified. We must be vigilant to ensure that the safety of children is not compromised by bottom line politicians who use budget shortfalls to justify the release of violent criminals.


Jonathan’s Gift

During the course of one year I lost my only child to violence, my youngest brother to the ravages of illness and a grandmother to time. I survived these tragedies a better, stronger, and more determined person, because I was nurtured by the grace of angels.

The hand of God touched me on the day Polly was born. The first time I held her in my arms I experienced the power of unconditional love. This perfect baby was mine, and I would love and protect her forever. For me, this was the miracle of birth.

I was fortunate that Polly was my companion on this earthly pilgrimage. The strength of her commitment enhanced my understanding of the human condition and provided me with clarity of vision. The depth of her emotion taught me that caring for others could strengthen my own self worth and expand my horizons beyond material values. The purity of her love defined her final act. She faced her worst fears with courage worthy of the most seasoned combat veteran. On shaky knees, as the devil was stealing her into the night, her final words were, “Please don’t hurt my mother and sister.” My greatest teacher was only twelve-years-old.

That night the angels dipped their wings over Petaluma and re-claimed one of their own. In life Polly shared her gifts with those who were touched by her presence, but in death she touched us all. The welfare of a little lost girl surmounted religious, ethnic and political barriers. Millions of eyes were looking for her and millions of hands were clasped in prayer for her safe return. Her presence on earth set a course that millions of years of evolution, thousands of years of legislation and hundreds of years of struggle and strife couldn’t accomplish. She brought us together as one. Those were Polly’s angels.

The nation rose like a phoenix in the wake of Polly’s tragedy and demanded answers. For sixty-five days we navigated the murky waters of despair toward a fate that tantalized us with glimmers of light, and then doused our hopes with uncertain veils of darkness. Finally the prayers of Polly’s angels were answered, but not as we expected. Polly’s unselfish bravery in the face of doom provided the target and her commitment of love gave us the weapon to use in the eternal struggle between good and evil. In bitter irony we discovered that in order to win the war, we sometimes have to lose a battle.

Seven months later I visited my brother Jonathan on his deathbed. He seemed to be recovering and was excited to see me. I held his hand as he told me the following story. “Earlier today Polly visited me. She fluttered above me like a butterfly on tiny wings. I asked her why her wings were so small? She said that it was because she wasn’t ready to go yet. Then Polly said, ‘Get ready Uncle Jonny, because you will be joining me soon and there are a great big pair of wings waiting for you.’ I asked her if I should hurry? Polly said, ‘No, Uncle Jon, you want your wings to get as big as they can, and together we will take a ride that is better than anything at Disneyland.” Two days later Jonathan died. Now he is with Polly on a fantastic voyage.

My grandmother was very old, bed ridden and fragile, so we didn’t tell her about either of these misfortunes. Besides, she was riding horses, and wanted to get to the top of the mountain where Polly was waiting for her and the sun was disappearing over the horizon. She is now with Polly, and the sun has set and I know something that I never realized before. The angel we were seeking was guiding us all along.

Secrets from my Tuscan Kitchen

Secrets from my Tuscan Kitchenis a cookbook written by my friend Judy Witts Francini. Judy and I worked together at San Francisco’s Stanford Court Hotel in the mid 1980’s. When I moved to San Francisco during a difficult time in my life, I spent an awful lot of time at Judy and Cathy’s apartment, listening to punk rock, sipping Stoli and tasting Judy’s budding culinary creations. Judy began her culinary career as a pastry chef in California, but in 1984 declared that she was going to move to Italy to pursue her culinary aspirations and “find a real man”.
Secrets from my Tuscan Kitchen is the culmination of more than two decades of total immersion into the cultural and gastronomical sensibility of Tuscany. This beautiful book contains nearly 100 of Judy’s favorite recipes which she also teaches at her culinary program Divina Cucina which is based in Florence. From Antipasti (appetizer) to Dolci (dessert), recipes are logically organized and each is paired with a note page so that you can apply and notate modifications to your own taste. Given that Violet and I are addicted to the Primo Piatto(first course) I return time again to Judy’s exquisite Naked Ravioli and outrageous Risotto.
Delight your friends and family with the fresh, creative, and beautiful dishes in Secrets from my Tuscan Kitchen. Autographed copies of this fabulous cookbook, which I highly recommend, are available through Judy’s Divina Cucina website. If you are looking for last minute Christmas gifts that will wow and impress the recipients you cannot go wrong with Secrets from my Tuscan Kitchen!!!

Oh, and Judy had no trouble finding that “real” man she was seeking in 1984. She has been happily married to Andrea Francini for many years now.

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle

On October 11, 2011 five-year-old Jahessye (Jessie) Shockley seemingly fell of the face of the earth. One month later her mother Jerice Hunter stared into the lens of a television camera and declared, “Jahessye, mama coming to get you. Mama coming!”

America is in denial that evil exists in the hand that rocks the cradle. We prefer to think of our monsters as shrouded, faceless men lurking in the dark. However, a current case illustrate that as convenient as this perception may be, moms and dads can also be infected with anti-social impulses, destructive compulsions, and violent tendencies.

It was reported that Jahessye disappeared from the family home under the care of three siblings while her mother ran errands. There were no signs of forced entry so police initially believed that Jahessye had walked out through the front door and wandered away when no one was paying attention. A hastily issued Amber Alert and thorough search of her Glendale, Arizona neighborhood provided no leads to her whereabouts.

No suspect or person of interest was named, yet within days Jerice Hunter accused the authorities of unfairly focusing their investigation on her, because of her criminal past. Jerice’ mother Shirley Johnson further charged the police and media with racism, claiming that the case was not receiving much deserved attention because the little girl was black. On November 21, 2011 Jerice Hunter was arrested on child abuse charges directly related to Jahessye’s disappearance. The authorities announced that they do not expect to recover Jahessye alive.

In 2005 Jerice Hunter was charged with torturing another 7-year old daughter and causing corporal injury her other three children. Her mother Shirley Johnson told the police that Jerice whipped the child with an extension cord while the child was being held down by her husband, registered sex offender George Shockley. In 2006 torture charges were dropped in exchange for a “no contest” plea. Hunter was subsequently sentenced to 8-years in prison and denied her parental rights because she was considered a threat to the well being of her children. Jerice justified her criminal behavior by claiming that she had been abused as a child.

Jerice Hunter’s mother Shirley Johnson, the woman who taught Jerice how to discipline and abuse kids, received custody of the four children named in the criminal complaint. Little Jahessye, born shortly before her mother went to prison, was turned over to other relatives. Upon her release from custody four years later Jerice moved to Arizona where grandma Shirley decided to ‘reunite the family’ without going through legal proceedings. Upon an order from Phoenix Police little Jahessye was turned over to her mother in August, 2010. Jerice now had total control over the children she had gone to prison for abusing and the daughter who would disappear within the next ten months.

Jerice was eight months pregnant when Jahessye disappeared, so she was not allowed to take the polygraph she said would prove her innocence. By the time Jerice gave birth at the end of October, Arizona Child Protective Services (CPS) had removed the other three children from her custody and placed them in foster homes. They quickly did the same with her infant. Jerice now refuses to take a polygraph exam.

Once free of her mother’s control Jahessye’s thirteen-year-old sister told her foster mother that Jahessye was kept in a bedroom closet and deprived of food and water and that she had seen her with black eyes and bruises and cuts to her face and body. She also reported that clumps of Jahessye’s hair had been pulled out. She went on to say that Jahessye did not look alive, that she looked like a zombie and that the closet where Jahessye was kept looked like a grave and smelled like dead people.

The sister said that a few days before Jahessye was reported missing Jerice spent the entire day cleaning the apartment and cleaning her shoes from the closet with soap and bleach. The police found a receipt that showed Jerice bought a bottle of bleach two days before she reported Jahessye missing. Jerice was arrested for child abuse on November 21. She has since been released and has not been charged with Jahessye’s disappearance.

This case oozes deferred responsibility. It wasn’t Jerice Hunter’s fault that she tortured and abused her kids: after all, that’s how she was treated when she was a child. It’s not Phoenix PD’s fault that Jahessye was returned to her mother because children belong with their parents. California CPS wasn’t responsible for actions that took place in Arizona, and Arizona CPS couldn’t prove abuse despite numerous complaints and repeated reports documenting Jerice’s sad and sordid history with children.

The disappearance of Jahessye Shockley is a familial and institutional failure. Her mother has proven unfit time and time again. The court knew it, but failed to take appropriate action. Jerice Hunter had been reported to CPS more than once, yet they failed to take appropriate action. The police who ordered Jahessye return to her abusive mother now scramble to locate the little girl whose disappearance has rocked a community.

We only know two things for certain. Jahessye Shockley did not fall of the face of the earth, and her mother should never have been allowed to regain custody of her children.

One November 9, 2011Jerice Hunter stared into the lens of a television camera and declared, “Jahessye, mama coming to get you. Mama coming!”

It Came From Hell!

He’s only twenty-years-old, slight of frame, with a receding hairline and a bad complexion. His name is Ryan Brunn and he possesses qualities that are both unique and rare to mankind. He lacks conscience and receives great joy from inflicting pain and suffering upon others. Such great joy, in fact, that his most recent bloodlust was only satisfied after he had kidnapped, bludgeoned, raped, stabbed and murdered seven-year-old Jorelys Rivera. Then he disposed of her remains by tossing her into a dumpster, compacting her tortured little body and hoping that his crime would not be discovered. But it was.

Brunn was not regurgitated from Hell last Thursday so that he could attack little Jorelys on Friday. He had been preparing for his moment for two decades. As the authorities retrace the steps of his sordid life they will no doubt uncover other victims who were able to escape the full wrath of his budding sadism. The human victims may be able to assist in peeling back the layers of his grotesque life. Unfortunately, as they do so they will be forced to relive their own pain, suffering and extreme victimization. The animal victims will not. Perhaps it was while torturing and killing animals that he first became sexually aroused. If so, he would not be the first as this is a common trait among sexual sadists.  

Jorelys is not dead simply because Brunn wanted to eliminate witnesses to his rape. If it were that simple he would have strangled her to death. Instead he leveled incalculable violence upon her little body in the form of blunt force trauma and stab wounds. It was only in the throes of this massive perversion that he was able to achieve the sexual release that was the goal of his attack. Had he not been captured he would have repeated this scenario again…and again…and again ad nauseam.   

So, it is the memory of little Jorelys that will sustain him for the next several decades. He will sit in his cell and relive his greatest triumph through dreams, masturbation, and other facets of his twisted imagination. It is only the death of her victimizer that will finally free Jorelys from her ongoing victimization. When his eyes become as unblinking and unseeing as her, that Jorelys torment will finally end once and for all.

How do I know these things to be true? Fifteen years ago I spent six months sitting in a courtroom as prosecutors built the case against my daughter Polly’s killer. I listened to psychiatrist after psychologist detail the mind of a sexually sadistic psychopath. Their arguments were so convincing that he was sentenced to death. He still sits on death row and, as he told Psychiatrist Lewelen Jones, “Masturbates twice daily and thinks of tying up female victims of past crimes.” I can think of no better justification for the death penalty.

The News of the World is Not All Bad

Like the rest of the world I was appalled at the recent revelations about the phone hacking and illegal wiretapping scandals that have caused Great Britain’s News of the World (NOTW) to shut its doors. Members of senior staff have been arrested for criminal conspiracy and corruption charges. Allegations of bribing police officials, anti-competitive practices, computer and phone hacking among other charges have been leveled at News Corporation and its iconic Chairman Rupert Murdoch. Cell phone messages from celebrities, politicians, and members of the royal family were illegally accessed, creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. However, the incident that really made my skin crawl was learning that thirteen-year-old kidnap and murder victim Milly Dowler’s cell phone account was manipulated by NOTW operatives leading her family and the police to believe that she was still alive. However, it is the NOTW response to another missing child case that I would like revisit.

On July 1, 2000, eight-year-old Sarah Payne disappeared from West Sussex, England. Seventeen days later Sarah’s remains were recovered from a cornfield about fifteen miles away in Pulborough. Convinced that their daughter had been the victim of a sex predator, Sarah’s parents Sara and Michael demanded changes that would be more protective of Great Britain’s children. The Payne’s then joined forces with leading tabloid newspaper News of the World to campaign for life-prison terms for child killers and public access to identifying information on Great Britain’s 110,000 registered sex offenders. The campaign became known as Sarah’s Law.

Utilizing its formidable resources and with broad public support, the newspaper launched a petition drive demanding public access to and longer sentences for convicted sex offenders. The NOTW then published the photographs and addresses of 50 known sex offenders. This action ignited vigilante reprisals despite appeals against violence.

Because of our work to legislate sex offender registration and community notification (Megan’s Law) in the United States, the NOTW contacted KlaasKids and invited us to Great Britain to help advocate on behalf of Sarah’s Law, and counter scathing governmental and conservative media condemnation. During a July, 2000 meeting with British Home Office Junior Secretary Paul Boateng, I was told that the government intervened and warned unsuspecting women only when incarcerated sex offenders place lonely heart ads trolling for single mothers of young children. However, the minister then condemned the NOTW ‘name and shame’ campaign. He stated that community notification was not an option because the government believed that ‘outing’ sex offenders would drive them underground, and that disclosing their addresses would promote vigilantism. I told the Secretary that suggesting that community notification will drive registered sex offenders underground belies the real problem. The offenders are already underground and community notification is a remedy, not a symptom.

The American example of Megan’s Law demonstrated that punitive penalties for failing to comply with the terms of sex offender registration did not force offenders underground: instead, they promoted compliance. Numerous studies also indicated that imposing prison penalty enhancement for individuals who misuse sex offender registration information to exact vigilante justice were effective as very few registered sex offenders had been publicly threatened.

On September 12, 2000 Sara and Michael Payne delivered 700,000 petition signatures to the British Home Office. On September 25, Violet and I returned to Great Britain to join Sara and Michael Payne in addressing the annual Labor Party convention. It was our fervent hope that the British Government, which now stood alone in opposition, would acknowledge the will of the people and replicate America’s bold and successful experiment with community notification.

Unfortunately, it was not to be so. In December 2001, recidivist sex offender Roy Whiting was convicted of murdering Sarah Payne and sentenced to 50-years in prison. In the end it took a more than decade to convince the government and the authorities that Sarah’s Law was sound policy. In April 2011, that the Home Office finally announced that Sarah’s Law would be implemented. Like Megan Kanka’s mother before her, Sara Payne’s belief that her daughter would be alive had she known that a sexual predator lived in her community forced a change in national policy. Now, parents can access information on registered sex offenders in their neighborhood and use the information to protect their children.

During our work on behalf of Sarah’s Law we befriended NOTW editor Rebekah Brooks and her successor Andy Coulson, both of whom now face serious criminal charges. They helped a grieving mother achieve her dream of protecting children through legislative change. Their benevolence seemed genuine as they asked for nothing in return. We were proud of our work on behalf of Sarah’s Law and grateful for the experience, as grueling as it ultimately became.

However,a few months ago it was revealed that the NOTW had also hacked into Sara Payne’s cell phone account. That, in turn, leads me to wonder if they did the same to me after insisting that I use one of their cell phones during our visits across the pond?

Baby Lisa and the Loss of Faith

Baby Lisa’s parents have asked supporters not to hold any more vigils for the missing one-year-old on their front lawn. Really? So there are people trying to help; trying to keep the story alive in hopes of recovering the little girl and the family is asking them to stop. A family spokesperson said that the vigils made a return to normalcy impossible and that the vigils were upsetting Lisa’s half brothers. Meanwhile the authorities have reported no new developments in the case.

Volunteers who are invested in the safe return of baby Lisa need support from the family, not indifference or condemnation, yet they have been blown off by Jeremy and Deborah. After all, it has been demonstrated time and time again that the recovery of an abducted child requires a full team effort that includes volunteers. But no: instead of assisting in baby Lisa’s recovery, the volunteers are told that they are making it impossible for the family to return to a normal routine.

How normal can life be if your home has been broken into, your infant has been kidnapped and remains missing and your other children are left to believe that an evil boogeyman who has already stolen your sister remains at large? If your lawyer and not your heart speak on your behalf then your sense of normal probably belongs in a courtroom, not a living room. If you can convince yourself that a return to normal means that there should be no more vigils on your front lawn then you are either in denial or something more sinister is afoot. It took many years after my daughter Polly’s tragedy before Violet and I were able to adjust to our new normal. We had lost a piece of our soul, our vision of the future as her tragic fate severely challenged our faith.

What must the step-brothers think of this most recent development? It seems like vigils on their lawn would be the least of their worries. We know that five and eight year old children register fear, have nightmares and are totally dependent on their parents for their survival. So I have to wonder what Jeremy and Deborah are telling them about the disappearance of their little sister. I also wonder if they have asked, “What would you do if I was kidnapped?”

How would you like Jeremy and Deborah to be your parents? It would be like hovering off the edge of a cliff with a severe case of vertigo and no one to hold onto.