Outrageous story about a legendary private eye with hooks for hands and the hunt for an American killer in Thailand

Armes and Mannequins

I’m very pleased to see my latest story for Narratively go live, and that’s because it is definitely a wild ride. Living in El Paso, I befriended a legendary private eye named Jay J. Armes, who recently turned 88 years old. He lost both of his hands in a childhood accident but used the metal prostheses that replaced them to his advantage as a world-famous private eye and head of The Investigators, his detective agency.

Armes has now been in the business for more than 60 years, and his career has been nothing but astonishing adventures. He has investigated all over the world, tracking down criminals, rescuing hostages, and retrieving jewels. The story for Narratively chronicles how he and his son tracked down an alleged American murderer in Thailand and how they convinced him to come back to the US. But it also takes a look at the life and times of Jay J. Armes and his son’s experience photographing bodies and infiltrating institutions when he was just a kid.

This story is adapted from my updated book about Armes and barely scratches the surface of just how incredible his life has been. Armes not only has an action figure in his honor but also has a storied career as an El Paso politician, where he put his uncompromising drive to work for his fellow El Pasoans.

At any rate, read on! If this is of interest, my should be forthcoming at some point. And if you need a private eye, definitely reach out to the Investigators. They aren’t cheap, but they are legendary.

Two Articles on Current Events

Below are two articles I wrote in response to recent events. Another article addressing rates of domestic violence committed by police officers and the lack of statistics available to study this awful phenomenon is forthcoming.

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Updating a conspiracy “as American as apple pie.”

The first article aims to contextualize the JFK assassination theories in today’s conspiracy landscape. An important disclaimer is that this article is not an endorsement of conspiracy theories, and certainly not of the noxious QAnon/Deep State insanity that has become an influential part of today’s political discourse. While it is obvious (and proven) that powerful people collude with each other for their own personal and financial benefit, that’s dramatically different than believing Hilary Clinton eats children. And that’s the point of this article – how does investigation into the very real machinations of government agencies that (directly or inadvertently) resulted in the death of a President get subsumed into the vortex of today’s alt-right disinformation hellscape? And what does this say about how we consume information and how we’ll do so in the future?

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The so-called “Umbrella Man” caught breaking windows quickly fled when confronted by activists who didn’t recognize him

The second takes a look at a suspected agent provocateur filmed smashing windows at an Autozone in Minnesota in the midst of the uprising following the murder of George Floyd. Widely-shared footage of this guy clearly indicates he was a plant of some kind, and the initial assumption was that the guy was an undercover police officer. My article takes a look at the legality of this kind of law enforcement tactic, though it recently came to light that the guy is a white supremacist implicated in similar clandestine actions at other demonstrations. My article is thus somewhat outdated, but the general ideas it explores are still worthwhile, since infiltration like this has been happening all over the place, has happened in the past, and will no doubt continue in the future.

Want to hear more about the Principality of Sealand?

Below is some media featuring yours truly talking about my new book Sealand: the True Story of the World’s Most Stubborn Micronation and Its Eccentric Royal Family for when you are driving or operating power tools or pretending to work and reading a book isn’t the optimal way to get this information!

My appearance on the History Unplugged podcast with estimable and affable historian Scott Rank.

Talking once again with the brilliant Vick Mickunas on the long-running Book Nook.

Chatting it up for an entire hour (!) with WBAI’s Leonard Lopate in NYC.

A short convo with Narratively (where I am a staff writer) about the process of researching and writing this book.

And I make an appearance in a video about MicroCon 2019, in which micronationalist leaders from around North America (and a few from beyond) gather for a weekend of microdiplomacy:

MY BOOK ABOUT THE PRINCIPALITY OF SEALAND IS OUT NOW!!!!!!!!

Finally, the day has arrived! My second book “Sealand: the True Story of the World’s Most Stubborn Micronation and Its Eccentric Royal Family” is now officially out!

The book chronicles the remarkable history of the Principality of Sealand, a self-declared country built on an oil rig in the middle of the North Sea. Sealand has been sovereign for more than fifty years and has been host to an outrageous series of battles, schemes, and adventures. All of this is chronicled in my book, from the country’s s start as a pirate radio station to the trouble that can come when your country’s passports are bootlegged by international criminals. Sealand has gone on to inspire similar micronations the world over, and the book takes a look at this global subculture of would-be world leaders.

I will leave it to the advance reviews below to hype the book further, but please feel free to order the book and let me know what you think! An excerpt I published a while ago on Narratively can be found here.

Thank you to the Bates family and the longtime Sealanders for granting me such cool access and interviews, my agent Amanda Jain at BookEnds Literary, and Diversion Books for publishing this brilliant work of micronational art!

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Sealand is a rollicking ride across a tumultuous and astoundingly improbable history. How did I not know about this? How can a heap of concrete and metal in the North Sea possibly be the newest and smallest country in the world? Prepare to be charmed and transfixed by Roy Bates, the swashbuckling, visionary Prince of Sealand and his ‘micro Royal Family’ who stave off sea invaders, cyber coups, and attempted governmental takeovers in the name of freedom. An unlikely, remarkable, riveting story.”―Buddy Levy, bestselling author of Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition

“In Sealand, Dylan Taylor-Lehman offers a thoroughly researched, stranger-than-fiction account of a rogue principality a fraction the size of Buckingham Palace. With decades of outrageous shenanigans and unparalleled bravado on display, the story of the Bates family gives the term royalty a whole new meaning.”―Robert Jobson, Royal Editor for the London Evening Standard; and author of King Charles: The Man, The Monarch, and The Future of Britain

“Outrageously funny yet tender at its core, Sealand chronicles an oddball visionary’s quest to create a legacy that even kings and emperors might envy. The gifted Dylan Taylor-Lehman has blessed us with a book every bit as madcap and admirable as Roy Bates’s dream of a sovereign North Sea paradise.”―Brendan I. Koerner, author of The Skies Belong to Us and Now the Hell Will Start

Behold! The Glory that is Sealand!

The Pirates of the Highways – a look into the world of American semi-truck thievery

My latest for Narratively takes a look into the world of semi-truck thievery across the good ole’ USA. Though I of course can’t comprehensively explore every aspect of this kind of crime, I was able to go into some depth about the surprising cargo that is often stolen and how some of these thieves go about this business.

For better or worse, crime is always interesting and this is no exception.

“…[the investigative team] was already aware of [the thief], who authorities had been keeping an eye on since 2009. But they’d ramped up surveillance a year earlier, after his son had been arrested for stealing a trailer full of 39,000 pounds of Wrigley’s gum, valued at $175,000, from a shipping facility and attempting to drive it to Detroit, a heist that led to a 15-minute chase with a Michigan State Police officer, and culminated with the driver running from the cab and his co-conspirator attempting to hide in a field.”

Please read the article here!

On covering my first homicide

A UK-based true crime magazine called Foul Play debuted a few years ago and was described “zine seeks to satiate our fascination with real-life murders without resorting to sensationalism.” Foul Play was edited, designed, and published by Emma Hardy and Grace Harrison, and the pair put out three issues before apparently closing shop.

I had a piece published in the third issue, which came out in early 2019. The article discusses the first murder I covered as a reporter, which happened to be a double-homicide that occurred in Yellow Springs in January 2017. The crime was obviously extremely shocking and I found myself in the difficult and surreal position of being on the scene not long after it happened and trying to speak with law enforcement and distraught family members.

The article is written in first person (which I ordinarily really don’t like to do) and takes a look at what it was like to be there, to experience the family’s grief firsthand, and to be utterly stunned by a startling revelation that unfolded right in front of me. My deepest sympathies will always go out to the families involved for the unimaginable difficulties they had to face.

Foul Play‘s website is offline and the magazine doesn’t appear to be readaily available anymore, and so below you’ll find a link to download the entirety of issue 3. My article, entitled “Hot Off the Press,” starts on page 44. The entire magazine is beautifully laid out and has a lot of interesting content and it’s a shame that Foul Play was so short lived.

A 2018 profile of the magazine’s creators and editors appeared in Vice and can be found here.

Issue 3 of Foul Play can be downloaded here.

The World is Studded with Artificial Mountains

A few years ago, I traveled to Kingsport, Tennessee and came across a strange geologic feature in the middle of the city. It was Cement Hill, an angular hill covered in scraggly grass and gnarly thorns and inaccessible to pedestrians. I was taken by the surreal sight and was told it got its name because it was in fact made of material leftover from cement production in a nearby factory. It was amazing to me that something so seemingly geologic in scope was actually man-made and I wanted to see if there were more places like this.

I later found out that Cement Hill is not actually made of cement and instead got its name because cement factory employees used to live on the hill. But I did learn that there are actually tons of artificial mountains around the world, for better or worse, and I recently had an article published at Atlas Obscura that provides a brief overview of the whys and hows of the world’s artificial mountains.

Feel free to check the article out here, and please feel free to get in touch if you’d like to invite me on an excursion to one of these monuments to the anthropocene era!!

The Greatest Political Shitshow That Ever Was

Bribery! Impeachment! Drug smuggling! Gambling! Judges getting drunk in the chambers! The Florida Supreme Court scandals of the 1970s make today’s political circus look tame by comparison. Art by Justin Klanke.

My latest piece for Narratively explores the wild circumstances of the Florida Supreme Court in the 1970s, in which five of the seven justices were facing some kind of intense legal pressure, impeachment, and disbarment. One had to take a sanity test to prove he was competent enough to keep his position and another later became a drug runner and disappeared to avoid prosecution.

It’s obviously a timely piece given the madness surrounding the US’s resident dickhead at the moment but is also a perennial reminder that power most likely will only corrupt!

Please feel free to check out this ridiculous story here.

A retrospective on the time a mountaintop solar observatory was mysteriously closed by the FBI

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A year ago I was working as a reporter for the Alamogordo Daily News and we got a call that a remote mountaintop observatory had suddenly been evacuated, apparently by the FBI. I went up there to try to figure out what was going on, and by the time I came back down, the internet had exploded with wild theories as to what exactly was going on. I admit I was swept up in the speculation, but it quickly became apparent how maddeningly incorrect almost all of the self-assured conspiracy theorists were about basic aspects of the situation, which in turn called into question the legitimacy of anything they were saying. Still, it was a pretty wild situation and the ultimate answer as to what caused the evacuation left more questions than it answered.

I wrote a piece on the whole situation one year later, and though I’m woefully late on posting this link, it can be viewed here at Narratively.

I’ve since received a brief email from the FBI saying only “The matter about which you inquire was investigative in nature, and Justice Department agencies generally do not comment on investigative matters. The FBI therefore cannot respond to your inquiry other than to state that the investigation concluded without the filing of criminal charges.” While I’m grateful for the response, other sources say this isn’t entirely accurate and they are still waiting for the other shoe to drop in terms of what comes next for the person allegedly behind the crime discussed in the above story.

I’ll continue to look into this strange saga, not indulging any conspiracy nonsense but at least sniffing out some leads on some other weird things that were going on in the area at around the same time. It’s probably nothing, and there’s ample evidence that the charges mentioned in the story are simply a cover for an investigation into a much more serious security breach, meaning that we’ll probably never know the real story. Then again, maybe something will suddenly be announced or maybe this really was all that happened.

At any rate, check out the story and feel free to get in touch with any ideas, leads, or suggestions!

Just published – The Curse of the Ship of Gold!

Aboard the SOG mission

I’m very happy to post a link to one of the most in-depth stories I’ve had published, the fascinating and tragic tale of Tommy Thompson, a brilliant scientist cursed by the grandeur of his discovery.

Please feel free to check out The Curse of the Ship of Gold here!!!

In 1988, Thompson and a crew of scientists and adventurers discovered the remains of the SS Central America, a ship that sank in a hurricane in 1857. The ship was carrying tons of gold from the Gold Rush, making it the dream quarry of treasure hunters. Thompson’s mission drew widespread acclaim as an example of classic American ingenuity, but he soon learned that he had also unleashed the wild specter of greed.

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From there, Thompson’s life was turned upside-down and would take him from court rooms to hoarded-out mansions to life on the run as a federal fugitive. He was ultimately captured after disappearing for almost two years and recently went on trial for allegedly making off with gold due to investors in the mission three decades before.

Thanks again to Narratively for taking on this piece and for the fantastic and classy look of the finished story!