Category Archives: Crime

A quick public service announcement

For those of you who haven’t heard:

We are facing what I have known as a crisis for quite some time. Although the murder rate was down 2008 the incidence of illegal gun usage was up and there were people and cars shot at on a routine basis. (Gangs) with (their)/ it’s loose network of community terrorist associates, have taken it upon themselves to terrorize our communities and inner city. We must act and must act as a cohesive group to defeat the enemy that is fueling these (various factions). However we will not fight with the weapons known and respected in the streets:

2 Cor. 10:3-4~ “3-For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: 4-(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)”

It is my prayer that you will join me at a community pastoral meeting to address this urgent situation at which I will unveil information that is essential in assisting with our understanding of this enemy that we face. I also plan to unveil a community strategy that will involve you and your church in a proactive method of attack against this terrorist group. I am convinced that our inaction is fuel to the flames of the community terrorists who have staked claim to our schools and our streets. It must end and that end must begin with us and our churches. I do not believe that we can expect a government bailout to assist us with this one.

Please join me at 6:30 PM Thursday evening at Higher Dimensions Worship Ctr. at 2610 W. Nebraska Peoria, IL. (Pastor Bob Randle)

Please pass this urgent request on to associates and other pastors who may also be interested in taking strong action against this (these) community terrorist group(s). Thank you and God bless you greatly.

Emphasis mine.

I’m planning on attending this meeting, and I wanted to pass the word to others.

Jane Austen vs. David Simon

I recently finished reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I had read it back when I was in high school, but it’s been so long that I consider this to be the first time that I read it. (Kinda like being a first time home buyer on my house.)

While I was reading it, I bought Homicide by David Simon. I’ve also read this book before, and I have more recollection of what I previously read. However, since my last reading of this book, I’ve read Simon’s other book, The Corner, and watched The Wire, the TV series that he created. Last time, I read Homicide because I had watched the TV show based on it. This time, I was reading it to gather further insight into police, crime, and police work. Or something like that. Dunno. It’s a different thing this time around.

So, I found myself reading both books at the same time. I’d read the one for a bit, then I’d pick up the other one. Back and forth for a while. And, honestly, there were times when I’d choose to read the one because the other was too depressing. Indeed, it languished for several weeks, because I found it too depressing to persevere through the story.

Yeah, it’s a weird moment when the gritty details of murder police is a welcome escape from 19th-century society.

Not what you were expecting? Then consider this.

David Simon does a fine job of speaking honestly about the homicide detectives that he shadowed. And, really, they are out there on the streets, dealing with death and depravity on a daily basis. But, really, that’s not a world that touches close to mine emotionally. I don’t know anyone who was murdered. (Crystal does, but that’s a different story.) So, while murder is a terrible and tragic thing, it’s still somewhat at an emotional distance.

Everyone has a family, though. And only some of them are happy.

In Pride and Prejudice, Austen spins a complex story involving the romantic relationships of several couples. And, with few exceptions, they are unhappy matches. Mr. Bennett snipes at his wife, who is too stupid to realize that he is mocking her. In turn, she is still a silly girl at heart, encouraging her daughters to emulate her folly. Lydia Bennett ends up running off with a wastrel and is only married because of the intervention of Mr. Darcy. Even Mr. Bingley and Jane’s match is tainted a bit for me, because Mr. Bingley appears incapable of making decisions for himself; rather, he only marries Jane after Mr. Darcy tells him to do so.

But the saddest of all, it seems to me, is the match between the pompous Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas. Upon discovering that he is seeking a wife, she carefully pursues him and secures a marriage with him. Does she love him? No. She admits as much. Rather, she desires the security of marriage, and she is getting old (at age twenty-seven) and is rather plain. So, she figures, this is the best that she can hope for.

And so we see them later. Mr. Collins is still pompous and does not realize that his wife despises him. She has organized the house so that she does not need to be near him, and she encourages him to garden so that he is out of the house frequently.

And this will be her life. Until she dies. Trapped in a loveless marriage that she pursued.

Proverbs 30:21-23 says:

Under three things the earth trembles;
under four it cannot bear up:
a slave when he becomes king,
and a fool when he is filled with food;
an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.

I’ve been around long enough to see relationships like this, or, worse, relationships that blow up or fall apart. At least the Collins were without children. But how long could that last? And would you want to grow up in a cold, lifeless household like that?

Or maybe you did.

Murder…murder is a reality that is far from most of us. But these damaged relationships cut close to home. Very close to home.

My wife loves me

Yesterday, I was grabbing my new bag to get some pencils for playtesting. There seemed to be an awful lot of stuff in the bag, though. Which was weird, given that I don’t really have a lot to put in that bag because of that whole being robbed thing.

So I opened my bag. Inside, I discovered a new copy of the game Hive, a new copy of the book Homicide, and a tin of Altoids. All things that had been stolen from me when my bag was taken.

My wife put them there. Because she loves me.

On being a crime victim

Hey, Barb! I still owe you a response to your question about Traffic and Crash and The Wire. Been a bit busy. However, I think that I have additional experience now to tack on to whatever answer I finally develop.

For those of you who don’t know, last Saturday, while Crystal and I were driving home from Erie (you know, after her mother died and all that particular joy), we were robbed. We stopped in Indianapolis at a Cracker Barrel and, while we were eating inside, parties unknown smashed one of the car windows and stole a bunch of stuff from the back seat.

So, I’m heading out to the car, while Crystal is, uh, attending to some business inside. I see a police car parked near our car. I’m thinking, “Oh no. What’s going on? We haven’t done anything wrong. It’s a rental car….” And so on and so forth. But I continue to walk the car.

Then I see the woman sitting in the passenger seat of the police car. This is a bit unusual. Normally, if you’re busted, you’re in the back of the car. Then I see her car and the shattered glass. Now I understand! She’s filing a report, and the police officer let her sit in the car, where it’s not quite so cold.

My heart goes out to the poor woman. “That’s terrible,” I think. “I can only imagine what that would feel like.”

And then I see our car, window similarly smashed.

Even then, it takes me a moment to realize that stuff is missing from the back seat.

I’m really surprised at how matter-of-fact I felt about it all. At least right then.

The rest of the scenario played out about how you’d expect. We talked to the police officer and filed a report of our own. The other woman, who actually works at the restaurant, ran back inside to check the security camera tapes. No dice; our cars were both conveniently in a dead zone of coverage. We canvassed the area a bit, hoping that the thieves had stashed our stuff somewhere to come back for it. Nope.

All of it was gone.

My laptop was gone. Among other things, it held my gaming archive, including various playtest versions of games, hard-to-find character sheets (like the sheets for The Mountain Witch). It also included notes for various games-in-progress, as well as my manuscript for Showdown.


My backups were on external hard drives, in case of hardware failure. They were in the laptop bag.


Those of you who have met me know that I carry a large black bag. I’ve done this ever since college. My bag is my toolkit for life. If I think that I might need something, I carry it in there. So, on our trip, my bag contained the following:

–my brand-new ESV Study Bible
–copies of each of my games (including my personal copy of Junk)
–my copies of Breaking the Ice and Shooting the Moon, each autographed by Emily Care Boss
–the game Hive, including the Mosquito expansion
–the book I was currently reading (Homicide by David Simon)
–the book I had finished reading (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)
–my PDA charger
–my phone charger
–several decks of cards
–several pens
–a digital recorder
–a green plastic alien who dangled from one of the zippers, which had been a present from my sister Elizabeth

And more, of course.

My bag is an extension of myself, almost a portable sanctum.


The list goes on. Crystal’s dad had given her a couple pieces of jewelry that her mom had bought before she died. They were in another bag in the back seat, which was taken.

Crystal’s slippers.

Several of my CDs, including one on loan from Raquel.

Gone. Gone. Gone.

They didn’t take everything, thank God. But they made out…well, they made out like bandits.

And somewhere in there, my emotions caught up with me. And, besides the anger and the sadness, there was this feeling of being offended. What had I done to these people that they treat me like this?

And then I felt violated. This was more than just my sense of security being shattered, though that’s certainly true. Rather, I felt attacked. These are things that I carry close to me, and they had been suddenly stripped from me. Violence had touched me, leaving me feeling exposed to the cold dark world.

I really needed that laptop to do work this week. Instead, I’m trying to do time-sensitive work while configuring a new computer. That’s frustrating.

I’m so used to carrying my bag everywhere that the lack of it is a constant reminder of what happened and what I lost. Crystal encouraged me to start putting together another bag, which I’ve done. But, it’s not really ready yet. And I’ll never be able to replace that green dangly alien.

And here I am, writing this, and I’m actually starting to cry over a silly plastic alien.

But it was special. It meant something to me. It was mine.

And someone stole it away from me. Just like that. Stole it and probably threw it away, because it wasn’t actually worth any money. Or worse, dangling from someone’s key ring as a trophy of that amazing smash-and-grab where they scored big.

If you have to be a victim of a crime, I guess this is the best kind. Neither Crystal or I were hurt. In fact, neither of us were physically threatened in any way. I mean, I’ve been reading Homicide, right? Those victims don’t get to walk away. So, I’m thankful to God for that.

And yet, we both are still feeling violated and hurt. And, honestly, there’s nothing to do except try to move on from here and say, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” And, by God’s grace, that’s what we shall do.

But, I suppose, I have also gained something. I have gained an immediate understanding of what it feels like to be a victim of crime. And, if nothing else, I will be better able to empathize with others who have been similarly victimized. And, perhaps, I will be better equipped to help stop others from being victimized, too.

And, lest anyone is concerned, yes, I still plan on making and playing crime games. I mean, after an experience like this, how could I stop?

Serial Homicide Unit

Michael Miller of Incardine Press just announced that Serial Homicide Unit is available for purchase in electronic format at Indie Press Revolution. Our playtest group tested this back in November 2007, and it was a deeply affecting game. Plus, Michael sent me a copy of the electronic version, which is just really cool.

Have I mentioned that the entire game is an audio recording? It is! Yes, there are printed instructions, too, but you don’t need them. Just play the mp3s in order and learn how to play as you actually play. It’s a great idea, and I look forward to hearing how this release format works out for Serial Homicide Unit.

This would also be an excellent game to use to introduce someone to roleplaying who is already interested in crime stories, especially true crime or police procedurals. The rules are simple and straightforward, yet the end result is deeply moving.

As one who is part of the current wave of crime RPGs, I’m trying to point out quality examples of the genre to as many people as possible. A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say. So, if you’re at all interested in this genre of game, do yourself a favor and check out Serial Homicide Unit.

A little story about redemption

Hello, my loyal readers. Today I will tell you a small tale about the glory of God.

This afternoon, I went out to the alley to collect my trash cans. As I normally do, I looked into the trash cans to see what was sloshing around in them. Given that we’ve just had a fairly intense ice storm, it seemed like a reasonable thing to do.

In one of the trash cans was a purse.

I looked at it for a moment. It seemed like an odd thing to be in my trash can. But maybe we were throwing away a purse that had been a toy. But I’ve been trying to train myself to pay attention to small things. So I fished it out of the trash can. It was so soaked with water that it was dripping everywhere. I poked around at the contents.

It was someone’s purse.

Among other things, the purse included photo ID and a piece of official correspondence. So, I had a name and address. Patty (not her real name) from a South Side address.

We couldn’t find a phone number, so we drove down to the place indicated on the ID. It was actually just on the edge of where Downtown and South Side meet.

She wasn’t there. The address was a group home where her mother lived. But one of the women on staff said that she was normally through several times a week. We were all concerned, because no one had seen Patty for a few days. Eventually, I left the purse and my phone number.

And that would be that, I figured.

Except it wasn’t.

This evening, Patty called. She was overjoyed that her purse had found its way back to her. She said that she had been shopping at Campustown and someone stole it from the car. She thought that she’d never see it again.

I know that this might look like a story about a virtuous citizen helping another person. But that’s not what I see.

I see the glory of God. I see my amazing Father bringing healing to my hurting city. Sure, it was a small thing. But, to Patty, it was a big thing. Tonight, she experienced a little of the rescue and redemption of the Father of lights.

And I was there to see it.

I didn’t think that I’d get to see the end of this story. But I did. It was encouraging. I got to see the hand of God at work.

It was good.

Proving that there are many types of geeks

Barb, I still owe you an answer. Between being sick and the blog server being switched over, I haven’t gotten there yet. But I will! I have a draft started and everything!

But, in the meantime, Paul Czege happened to link to something really, really useful for Dirty Cities:

The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s database of street terms for drugs.

I mean, how cool is that?

I can already envision portions of this working their way into Dirty Cities.

Plus, I am a geek.

This is my heart

Yes. This.

Beautiful Feet

Lord God, John Knox once prayed, “Give me Scotland or I die.” I confess that my vision is not as broad as his. But Lord…give me Peoria. Give me the South Side. Give me the Near North Side and Downtown and Bradley University and Renaissance Park. Give me the poor and the broken. Give me the prostitutes and the johns, the crack addicts and the drug dealers, the abused children and their abusers, the poor and the rich. Give me the broken of our city, the discarded detritus of our society, and build from them a temple for Your name.

And with it, Lord, give me an open and willing heart. Give me the love and compassion to reach out once again to the hurting who lash out. Give me the hospitality to open my home to the dirty and inconvenient. Give me the willingness to sacrifice my comfort, my sanity, and my privacy for the sake of those you send my way. Make me the kind of man that I need to be to carry out this mission.

Lord, I walk the streets and alleys of my city, and I see a people who desperately need You. Do not be far off.

Give me Peoria, Lord, or I die.

Crime fiction and social work

I just finished reading Dennis Lehane’s A Drink Before the War, the first book in his Kenzie/Gennaro detective series. As a point of reference, Book Four is Gone Baby Gone, which was recently made into an outstanding film. (I discuss the film with spoilers here.)

This is an unformed thought, but here goes.

So, this book is part of a stream of crime fiction that I’m finding I really appreciate. To wit, it’s social critique in fiction form. The Wire would be another example of this. (Fun fact: Dennis Lehane wrote several episodes of The Wire.) Specifically, it’s a form of crime fiction dealing with issues that counselors and social workers would have to address. In many ways, it seems comparable to the Spy vs. Guy espionage fiction written by John le Carré and others, as both are actually about addressing social and political ills through genre fiction.

And all this makes me think about an aptitude test that I took way back in high school. This was one of those tests that you take to help you figure out what you want to be when you grow up. At the time, I knew what I was going to be: a computer programmer. Duh.

So, imagine my surprise when “social work” came back at the top of my list.

That’s stuck with me over the years.

But, as I’ve gotten older, it has started to make more sense. That’s really where my heart is: with hurting, violated, abused people who need to be rescued from their sins. Hurting people who hurt people. That’s how I see my calling.

So I guess that my interacting with crime fiction makes sense. It’s preparation to interact with the people that I really want to help. Maybe that’s why it feels so much like coming home.

A lesson in journalism

Hooray! Peoria made the national news!

Illinois Police Pepper Spray Crowd Mourning 4-Month-Old Baby

Honestly, this looks like a mild rewrite of an article from our very own Peoria Journal-Star.

Baby found dead in Peoria home; police fire pepper balls on crowd

Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it?

Now, one of my co-workers is a member of the Tazewell County Auxiliary Police, and when this story was passed around the office, he was a bit put out. He pointed out that it is the job of the coroner to take the body of the deceased. It’s also the job of the police to secure a crime scene. For the record, an area where an infant died suddenly counts as a crime scene. Finally, he noted that it is normal procedure to give multiple warnings before using pepper spray.

Here’s an excerpt from the Journal-Star story:

“A bunch of family and friends came and were refusing to let the officers out with the baby,” said Lt. Marshall Dunnigan. “We had to use great force to get the coroner out with the baby.”

So, hang on a sec. There was a crowd of people attempting to interfere with the police doing their proper duty, and so the police eventually responded to protect the coroner and enforce the law? Why is this a problem?

But even the Journal-Star story sounds like the police overreacted, not to mention the Associated Press story that Fox News ran.

Another co-worker put his finger on this issue:

The problem lies in the use of the word “mourners.” That automatically puts the police in a bad light, implying they used force on people who were in emotional distress. It was a crowd gathered at the house that threatened to turn into a mob by interfering with police. Mourners are usually found at funerals, visitations, grave sites, etc., not congregating at a possible crime scene. It shows us how one eight-letter word can skew the perception of an event.

(Emphasis mine.)

And that’s it right there. Let me reword the lead sentence of that news article by making a slight adjustment:

Police officers fired pepper balls into a group of mourners mob gathering at the house of a 4-month-old girl who died in her South Peoria home Wednesday.

Makes a big difference, doesn’t it?

Or, as an alternate example, check out how I tweak this headline:

Officers use pepper balls to break up mob of about 100 people fire pepper balls at group of children

Use of force by the police always draws a lot of scrutiny, and that is certainly a good thing. I’m fairly confident that the entire situation will be reviewed and investigated as necessary internally; moreover, it’s good for the police to be accountable to the public at large. At the same time, we all need to be careful of the opinions that we form as a result of our interactions with the media. Just a single word or phrase can change all our opinions and reactions.

Learn to read between the lines.