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Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Lady of the Dunes

If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
If you're not into yoga, if you have half a brain
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes on the cape
I'm the love that you've looked for, come with me and escape

This Rupert Holmes one-hit-wonder topped the charts as 1979 closed. The lyrics capture the drastic societal change that took place during the turbulent two decades since Patti Page's 1957 paeon to Old Cape Cod's "church bells chimin' on a Sunday morn."

Both tunes have combined to secure the popular image of Cape Cod as a beautiful paradise.
But in the words of Provincetown Police Detective Meredith Lobur: "Beautiful places are not immune to brutal crime."

Yesterday was the 39th anniversary of our most infamous unsolved murder, a cold case known locally as "The Lady of the Dunes." Detective Lobur is still investigating.

Someone kind recently placed flowers on the grave of “The Lady of the Dunes,” 
marked on the headstone as “Unidentified Female Body.”

On the morning of July 26, 1974, a young girl walking her dog on the dunes found a woman’s naked and desecrated corpse lying face down on a towel with her clothes folded near her head.

Her hands had been cut off and her wrists shoved into the sand as if she were doing push-ups.

The left side of her skull was crushed, her head nearly decapitated and several teeth ripped out.

In 2000, DNA was taken with no result.

I’m told by someone who knows that investigators recently took yet another sample – quietly, so as not to rouse notice.

It’s striking how important DNA has become in re-opening cold cases. For example, the “Boston Strangler” case.

Albert DeSalvo, the “Boston Strangler”
Albert DeSalvo confessed to killing 11 women in the Boston area between 1962 and 1964. (He was later killed in prison.)
Police had always doubted DeSalvo’s confession to the rape and murder of Mary Sullivan, thought to have been his last victim. But this month, they used new DNA technology to conclusively link him to Mary’s murder.
Mary Sullivan had moved from Cape Cod to Boston days before her slaying. And here on Cape Cod, "The Lady of the Dunes" continues to haunt. As does this police composite of how "The Lady" might have looked:

Here’s how I dealt with all this in my forthcoming novel, Cold Stun:
“Things here are a little weird sometimes,” Steve said. 
“Like what?” Jenny asked.
“Like sometimes women are murdered here. And the cops never solve the murders. There’s all these ‘open’ murder cases around here.” 
“Except Chop-Chop,” Billy corrected. “They got Chop-Chop.”
“Who the hell is Chop-Chop?” Jenny asked.
“It was a long time ago,” Billy said. “Nineteen sixty-eight. The ‘Summer of Love.’ That’s how I remember the year. He was a pothead. Had a marijuana patch in his back yard. He killed two girls and cut them up and buried the parts behind his Mary Jane garden. That’s why they called him Chop-Chop.” 
“That’s what I mean about weird,” Steve said. “Tell her about The Lady of the Dunes, Billy.”
“That one’s been open for what, twenty, thirty years?” Billy said. He turned to Jenny. “This one happened next door, in Provincetown. They find a woman out in the dunes on the ocean side. Her hands are missing. Her head’s dangling off. The cops do a search of dental records. Nothing. They call her ‘The Lady of the Dunes.’ Still open.” 
“Seems that all the open cases happen to involve women,” Steve said. “A woman in Bourne stabbed to death in her bathtub. A teacher beaten to death in the woods in Mashpee.  Another woman shot in the head in a parking lot in Provincetown. These were professional people, you know? Not hookers or druggies.”
“Hell,” Danny said, “just last year a woman in her twenties goes for a job interview and disappears. Two months later they dig up her body from a beach in Sandwich.”
“Like I say, weird stuff,” Steve said.
In my next blog: How you get to be chairman of the board

Saturday, July 20, 2013


In her memoir, Paris France, Gertrude Stein claimed: “Writers have two countries. The one where they belong and the one in which they live really. The second one is romantic. It is not real but it is really there.”

I’d say this is true for not only writers, but for all of us as we approach each new day.

We have a romanticized anticipation in our mind’s eye of how we want things to unfold. But something as simple – or savage – as weather can wrench us back to the real.

Here in my Vieques paradise last week, whatever romantic plans islanders had were brought up short by warnings of the imminent arrival of Tropical Storm Chantal.

The usual preparations got under way. We stowed the outdoor furniture … filled bottles with drinking water and buckets with flushing water … queued up in long lines at the island’s two gas stations (which are across the street from each other).

Leonard Bernstein was talking about Puerto Rico when he wrote The West Side Story lyrics, “ … always the hurricanes blowing.”

The Spanish word for hurricane is tormenta.

Anyone who says they're not afraid of a hurricane is either a fool or a liar, or a little bit of both, says Anderson Cooper.

This is why, when I built my Casa Cascadas bed-and-breakfast on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, I commissioned Architect John Hix.

John’s been a presence in Vieques for more than two decades and has learned to keep his eye on the real, even as he designs the magnificent and the minimalist.

So he builds houses that are completely concrete and without glass, with steel doors that roll down to envelop occupants against what Rudyard Kipling called “crazy-eyed hurricanes.”

Casa Cascadas, Vieques, Puerto Rico

Taking the vagaries of weather into account – and having a “weather plan” in place – also is a principle of event planning.

In my days of planning events for corporations that ranged from Hitachi and Humana to IBM and Siemens, I grappled with a good share of bad weather.

For example:

The annual Christmas parties I produced for IBM employees unfailingly fell on the day of the winter’s first major snowstorm.

Recognition events I put on for Siemens’ top performers seemed cursed:  four days of rain during an event in Palm Beach … rain in the desert during an event in Scottsdale … a snow storm that delayed travelers to an event in the Florida keys.

At IBM, I witnessed 10 inches of rain on what we referred to as “turnover day” -- 1,000 employees trying to depart New Orleans after the first of two back-to-back recognition event sessions as another 1,000 tried to fly in for the second.

There is a life lesson to be learned from all this -- which explains the counter-intuitive action naval captains take when they leave the supposed safety of port for the open sea in anticipation of a hurricane.

To quote the nineteenth-century British cleric and aphorist, Charles Caleb Colton“The sailor that foresees a hurricane stands out to sea and encounters a storm in order to avoid a shipwreck.”

In my next blog: The Lady of the Dunes

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lady and the Tramp: Pooches in Paradise

The Island of Vieques is one big barnyard.

Paso fino horses, the mount of Conquistadores, roam roads and fields … chickens and roosters clutter both country lanes and city streets … residents keep goats, geese, parrots, cockatoos, peacocks and more.

And then there are the feral dogs.

Each Viequense family has at least one dog, most have several.

Martin Luther could have had Vieques in mind when he commented, “The dog would be much esteemed were it not so common.”

Puerto Ricans do not esteem dogs. In fact, they’ll tell you the dogs to whom they feed scraps aren’t theirs. The dogs are never allowed indoors … they aren’t neutered … they never visit a vet.

As a result, their average life span can be as brief as two years.
In Disney’s 1955 classic, Lady and the Tramp, the foot-loose and collar-free Tramp expounds on his lifestyle: “One family for every day of the week. The point is, none of them have me.”

The Viequense word for the feral dogs is sato. Although they are mixed-breed, satos share a look – short in the leg, long in the body, big-eared and a bit bug-eyed.

If there are an estimated 9,000+ human residents on Vieques, the pooch population is two, three, four, five times that number. We’ll never get an accurate count because the population changes hourly.

Take Angel, for example, the Puerto Rican guy down the road from me. He started with a single male that had a lot of Labrador in his background. A female sato came around and stayed for the scraps – and the love. Within the past six months she and the Lab have spawned two litters – six new puppies in all.
North Americans who live here can’t get enough of the satos. Alex and Glen keep three, as does Dorothy. Beverly has a brace. Dottie has about 10 and Ingrid might have 20 at any given time.

North Americans adopt satos and treat them like their children – down to inviting them to sleep in their beds. There is only one part-time vet here, so it’s not uncommon for North Americans to fly with their dogs to the main island of Puerto Rico for veterinary care.

North Americans who own rescued satos say these dogs are intelligent and loyal beyond belief because they seem to comprehend that their new owners have taken them off the street.

Which testifies to Mark Twain’s claim that, “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.”

Who’s to say what the dogs themselves think about it all? Disney took a crack at it:

Lady: It's morning.

Tramp: Yeah. So it is.

Lady: I should have been home hours ago.

Tramp: Why? Because you still believe in that “ faithful old dog" routine? Aw, come on, Pidge. Open your eyes.

Lady: Open my eyes?

Tramp: To what a dog's life can really be! I'll show you what I mean. Look down there. Tell me what you see.

Lady: Well, I see nice homes, with yards and fences ...

Tramp: Exactly. Life on a leash. Look again, Pige. Look, there's a great big hunk of world down there, with no fence around it. Where two dogs can find adventure and excitement. And beyond those distant hills, who knows what wonderful experiences? And it's all ours for the taking, Pige. It's all ours.

In my next blog: Tormenta!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

When the CEO sees red

My daughter once won the annual children’s Halloween window-painting contest sponsored by Main Street merchants in our town of Ridgefield, CT. What made hers such a stellar achievement was that the shopkeepers prohibited the kids from using black paint lest their windows crack from the sunlight absorbed by black.

Think about it. Halloween – a candy-crammed orgy of orange and black -- without the black.

About the same time my daughter was trying to figure out how to paint without black, I was trying to figure out how to do my job at IBM – “Big Blue” as the company is often called because of its distinctive blue logo -- without using the color red.

Our CEO hated the color. His standing order: “No red!” He had banished one of the primary colors.

At that time, IBM had many divisions, operating units and subsidiary corporations, and most conducted annual recognition events for top performers. The aim was to motivate the sales force while giving executives the chance to size up high-potential performers in a one-on-one environment away from the office.

I was responsible for creating our unit’s event – a mix of morning business meetings, afternoon recreational activities and evening social functions.

The staff worked for most of the year leading up to the event to create sophisticated business theater -- identifying and directing outside speakers, producing sophisticated multi-image video programs and pyrotechnics, and writing theme, continuity and speech material.

Except -- no red. No red type. No red on slides or graphics or sets. Not even the gels used on the stage lights could be any shade of red.

Red is unique in that it can attract or repel, elevate or enrage.

In many of the world’s cultures, red has positive connotations – good luck in China and India, beauty in Russia.

To the Hindu, red symbolizes joy, life, energy, creativity.

But red has its share of negatives: “seeing red” … “red flag” … “not worth a red cent” … “red tape.”

In financial reporting, red represents minus.

In the Catholic Church, it signifies martyrs.

And, of course, there’s Nathaniel Hawthorne’s infamous herald of disgrace, the scarlet letter.

In her novel, Pretty Face, Mary Hogan couldn’t have treated the color better: “Red is the color of life. It's blood, passion, rage. It's menstrual flow and after birth. Beginnings and violent end. Red is the color of love. Beating hearts and hungry lips. Roses, Valentines, cherries. Red is the color of shame. Crimson cheeks and spilled blood. Broken hearts, opened veins. A burning desire to return to white.” 

Who knows what it was about red that set off our CEO?

We didn’t push back at him too much, even though he inserted himself into our field of expertise. After all, he was the one on stage, the host of the party. It was his brand.

And he knew it. That’s why he periodically reminded those of us responsible for producing the lavish events of that big-budget era: “If you know so much, why aren’t you working in Hollywood and making six figures?” 

My next blog … Lady and the Tramp