March 31st, 2009

Germany tracks a female serial killer - and finds it's been looking in all the wrong places

A fascinating article in Time magazine begins, "The murderer dubbed the Phantom of Heilbronn had been baffling German investigators for two years. The criminal was a rarity, a female serial killer, and a very busy one: police had linked DNA evidence from 40 crimes — including the infamous homicide of a policewoman in the southern German town of Heilbronn — to the same woman. Police had found her DNA on items ranging from a cookie to a heroin syringe to a stolen car. They had put a $400,000 reward on her head. Profilers from around Europe were called in to help hunt her down."

What was so weird about the case was that she was not only a killer, but also a petty thief. She committed crimes all over Germany. And criminals who had also been at the scene denied knowing anything about her.

The answer was all in the Q-Tips used to take DNA samples. The same woman - presumably who worked at the Q-Tip factory - had packaged all the Q-Tips used in these cases, contaminated them with miniscule amounts of her DNA.

Read more here.

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From an editorial letter I just got

"I can honestly say that this is one of the best first drafts I’ve ever seen in my eighteen years as an editor. This novel has so much going for it—the characters are likeable—completely authentic with interesting personal stories, the pacing is fast and suspenseful, the secondary characters are wonderfully awful, and you’ve peppered the story with so many fascinating elements..."

Sure, after this there are three pages of suggestions, plus more written in the manuscript, but let me tell you, this makes my day!

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How we spent spring vacation

Teen has been skateboarding for a long time. But because Teen is of the girl persuasion, she is not quite as crazy as the boy skateboarders. I personally have no idea how she does it, because I get scared standing on an unmoving skateboard, even if I'm holding on to something for balance.

Teen only learned how to drop in last fall. To drop-in, you anchor the back of your skateboard with your back foot, while the rest juts out into empty space. Then you transfer your weight to the front of your board, and swoop down the steep curve.

That's the theory anyway.

Over spring break, we visited my mom's, where there is a wonderful skatepark. Teen was a bit anxious about dropping in, and decided she would definitely do it the last day. My mom and I sat on a bench and watched her balance over the lip of the drop.

The other side of the curve was hidden from us, but I could hear the sound of an empty skateboard skittering away. Teen popped up, face contorted, and then lay down again. I started running.

Running and swearing.

The worst thing was that she got the wind knocked out of her. Her arm hurt, but she seemed to have full range of motion and only a tiny bit of swelling. She had landed with one hand flat to catch herself.

We didn't get an X-ray until the next day. It seemed ambigiuous. Then on Monday a radiologist decided there was a hairline fracture.

This morning, though, we were given a choice. Cast or no cast. We looked at each. I knew she wanted one. She had already told all her friends. A cast would be "bad-bottom," as she puts it. So I said cast.

In the car, she said she had a brief panic attack when they put on the cast. Like her arm had claustrophia for a few seconds.

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