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!

Criminal conspiracies on the world’s foremost micronation

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I am very pleased to announce that I recently had an adapted excerpt from my upcoming book on the Principality of Sealand and its remarkable 51-year history published by Narratively.

What happens when a gang of international criminals bootlegs passports from the country your family founded? Quite a bit, it turns out: bank fraud, gunrunning, and a connection to the murder of Gianni Versace.

The article can be found here.

Read on if you like intrigue, self-determination, kidnapping, and governments-in-exile!!

My appearance on WYSO’s Book Nook

Dance of the TrusteesIf anyone is for some reason interested in anything I have to say, please feel free to listen to this interview I did with Vick Mickunas for the long-running and always interesting program Book Nook.

We spoke about my book Dance of the Trustees, life in Yellow Springs, the joys and difficulties of writing nonfiction, and some of the strange situations I’ve managed to get myself into and/or write about over the years.

Thanks a ton to Vick for the invite, and although everyone usually dislikes hearing their own voice, I have to say I think this turned out pretty well!

The interview can be heard here.

The locks and canals of the mighty Muskingum

Lock #10 is unique in that it is a double-lock, with two chambers to raise and lower boats. At least half a million gallons are displaced in each step of the process.

Atlas Obscura recently published a piece I wrote about the old lock system still in use up and down the Muskingum River in southeastern Ohio. The locks are operated by hand and require the skills of a lockmaster, who stays on site to help the estimated 7,000 annual boaters traverse the dams that make the river navigable.

It’s always a pleasure to pore through dusty old archives and historical collections, and this certainly holds true when investigating the interesting history of my beautiful hometown! Thanks to the various historians and lock enthusiasts for talking to me, and to Tim Curtis for showing me how it all works!

The article can be found here. 

My book “Dance of the Trustees: On the Astonishing Concerns of a Small Ohio Township” is available now!

My book Dance of the Trustees: On the Astonishing Concerns of a Small Ohio Township was published on July 30 and is currently available through the publisher for 30% off. That makes it a mere $15.37!

Please feel free to buy a bunch of copies of this incredible tome so I can retire and only write books.

About the book:

“On September 9, 2015, in the quirky village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, the Miami Township Board of Trustees arbitrated a dispute concerning an area bed and breakfast that was apparently causing a lot of problems in the neighborhood where it was located. People were irate – the B&B was considered too loud or unfairly under attack, and the township officials were called incompetent by both sides for not ruling in their favor. The trustees looked amused, concerned, interested, annoyed, and baffled at the situation before them.

But this quaint debate was one of many fascinating problems the trustees deal with on a daily basis. While Miami Township is small, the concerns are myriad – cemeteries are filledwith unknown remains, there is a fire department to oversee, and they sometimes take legal action against properties clogged with junk. The responsibilities are doubly impressive considering no trustees have backgrounds in public office.

This book combines entertaining nonfiction vignettes with well-researched township history – including its history of religious cults and the possibility that Lee Harvey Oswald was once in town – and elucidates the processes behind an entire civic division. The book documents 21st century township life with humor, warmth and erudition, but also with the scholarship befitting an easy to read civics textbook.”