by William Skink
There is a relatively new phenomenon of regular people using the internet to investigate criminal cases, often cold cases.
Known as “websleuths”, the most recent and high-profile example of this phenomenon is the incredible story of how the late Michelle McNamara’s obsessive efforts to investigate a prolific rapist/killer in California led to the capture of the Golden State Killer.
Websleuths are self-deputized audience members of the true crime genre. Other manifestations of media interest in this phenomenon include the Netflix documentary Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer and the book I’m currently reading, Gone At Midnight, by Jake Anderson.
The book is an attempt by the author to figure out what happened to Elisa Lam, a young Asian woman from Vancouver who was last seen at the creepy Cecil Hotel in LA, and later found dead and floating in a water cistern on the hotel’s roof.
The death of Elisa Lam went viral after the last images of her alive were released to the public. The video footage of Lam came from an elevator she was using in the Cecil. Her behavior in the video has led to all kinds of speculation, including paranormal possession.
While Anderson looks at all the possibilities in his book, including how Lam’s mental illness may have contributed to her behavior, he is savvy enough to wonder why the footage in the elevator was released, while other footage was not (police later admitted they had footage of Lam returning to the Cecil with two men).
One possible answer: narrative control. Get the public to focus on the titillation of supernatural possession while the more mundane questions regarding homicide go unasked.
Narrative control is incredibly important to authoritative institutions like law enforcement.
Here in Missoula there are narratives being told by those in authority about deaths that are happening in our community.
Two homeless men get into a fight and one dies. The man who dies is from out-of-state. The young man who killed him, the story goes, acted in self defense.
Two young men enter a bathroom to trade some black market merchandise. The kid who claimed to have meth had no meth, and instead of a trade intended theft. A struggle ensues and the wannabe thief gets stabbed four times and later dies.
The young man who killed him, the story goes, acted in self defense.
These simple narratives lacking critical context become tools of herd management for local power structures tasked with managing the criminal inclinations of our population. Anyone looking for justice in the county’s application of the law is making an erroneous assumption about the function of the criminal justice system.
This became apparent to me when war veteran and whistleblower Brandan Bryant was charged with felony intimidation last February. On February 4th I wrote a post posing a question that lays the joke of justice bare: If Brandon Bryant Had Killed A Homeless Person Instead Of Using Threatening Language Would He Still Be Sitting In Jail?
The questions I ask in that post are still very relevant, so I will ask them again. From the link:
Who gets justice in our community? Who gets protection? Those two questions ran through my mind as I read that Brandon Bryant was booked earlier this week on a felony count of “threats in official and political matters”.
Why is Bryant being held on a bond of $100,000? According to Deputy County Attorney, Selene Koepke, “prosecutors sought the high bail because they believed Bryant to be a threat to public safety.”
So, because Brandon Bryant used threatening language that elected officials have interpreted as being directed toward them, he is deemed “a threat to public safety” and thrown in jail.
Johnny Lee Perry, on the other hand, USED HIS HANDS TO KILL ANOTHER HUMAN BEING and he spent exactly ONE DAY IN JAIL before being released back to the streets without ANY CHARGES, felony or otherwise.
The juxtaposition of these two cases is absolutely insane. How is a man who literally killed another person with his bare hands not considered a threat to public safety while a veteran whistleblower who used threatening language is allegedly so threatening he deserves to sit in jail on $100,000 bond?
There has been no recent news regarding the legal fate of Brandon Bryant. The criminal justice system was clogged before the pandemic, so I can’t imagine how backed up it has become.
Regarding the non-public threat Johnny Lee Perry, I was downtown last week when I ran into a former client I knew from my work at the shelter. After some catching up, I asked him if he knew anything about the death at the Poverello Center.
According to this guy, Johnny Lee Perry was allowed to use Poverello services a mere month after killing Sean Stevenson in “self defense”. I have no reason to disbelieve this formerly homeless man, who once told me the accurate location of another killer in our community police failed to catch before he fled to Louisiana.
The narratives told by those in positions of power and influence are usually skewed toward protecting that power and influence.
People really need to remember that on a number of fronts as summer wanes and the anxiety of what’s ahead increases.