Friday, July 29, 2011

Noir: R. I. P. Frank Bender

DSC_1581 (2).jpg

Frank Bender and Bill Fleisher, NoirCon 2008

By Robert Moran Inquirer Staff Writer
 Frank Bender, 70, the world-renowned forensic sculptor whose hand-molded busts of unidentified murder victims and aging killers helped to crack cold cases, died Thursday at his home in Southwest Center City.

His most famous case involved John List, a New Jersey man who killed his family in 1971 and then disappeared. The producers of Fox's America's Most Wanted asked Mr. Bender to create a bust of List showing what he might look like 18 years later. A Virginia woman watching the show recognized the bust as her neighbor. List, who was living as Bob Clark, was arrested and convicted of the murders.

"In many ways, Frank's bust of John List really launched America's Most Wanted into a national force for catching fugitives," host John Walsh said in 2009. "Whenever I get the tough cases, I call Frank."

Mr. Bender was diagnosed that year with pleural  mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest that he believed resulted from his exposure to asbestos in the engine room of a Navy ship. He was told he had only months to live.

"He had a whole extra year than anyone had anticipated. And he had a pretty good year," said his daughter Vanessa, who was in New York when her father died Thursday afternoon.
In recent weeks, with his days numbered, he was the subject of profiles in the New York Times and People magazine.

"He was thrilled," said Joan Crescenz, Mr. Bender's longtime business manager. "He felt really good about the Times article, and the People article took him over the top."

He initially ignored People's request for an interview, said his daughter Lisa Brawner. "He wasn't in it for the fame or fortune," she said. "He was in it to do good."

He had just finished one of his favorite meals, chicken and cranberry sauce, when Crescenz found him slumped at the kitchen table having a hard time breathing. He was dead a short time later.

"His life ended the way he wanted it to," Crescenz said. "He was at home."

His home was a former butcher shop on South Street that he converted into a studio. His last case and his final months were being documented by Karen Mintz, a New Jersey filmmaker. The forthcoming film is titledThe Recomposer of the Decomposed, which is what he long called himself.

Mr. Bender was born in Philadelphia and grew up in North Philadelphia. He graduated from Thomas Edison High School in 1959 and then joined the Naval Reserves, said childhood friends Dennis Binsfeld and Rich Hettich. He always had an interest in art, they said.

Mr. Bender was a commercial photographer in Center City when he reconnected with a childhood acquaintance, Janice Lynn Proctor, who had become a fashion and hand model, Crescenz said. They married in 1969.

In 1977, he was taking evening classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts when he decided to spend time studying bodies at the Medical Examiner's Office.

He saw the body of an unidentified woman who had been shot in the head and decided to create a bust that could be used to identify her. The woman was identified as Anna Duvall of Phoenix, who had been killed by a mob hit man during a confrontation.

In 1990, Mr. Bender cofounded the Vidocq Society, a group of international forensic experts who reexamine unsolved murders.

Crescenz said Mr. Bender made from 40 to 50 busts. He would get the skull, sometimes boiling away the remaining flesh, and then mold a face. The process took about a month, but much of the work was done after a flash of inspiration.

"It would hit him and he'd get it almost done, then he'd step away," Crescenz said.

His wife died last year at 61 after a battle with non-smokers' lung cancer. 

He will be buried in a plot next to her at Washington Crossing National Cemetery in Bucks County.

In addition to his daughters, he is survived by three grandchildren and a sister.
Funeral arrangements were pending.

Hypothetical bust of what the unknown boy's father may have looked like, by forensic sculptor Frank Bender, V.S.M.

(Photo credit: America's Most Wanted.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Noir: Three NoirCon Favorites - An Unholy Trinity

JOAN SCHENKAR has been called "America's most original female contemporary playwright." TRULY WILDE, her biography of Oscar's interesting niece Dolly Wilde, was hailed as "a revelation, the great story of a life and of the creation of modern culture." THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH has already been acclaimed as the "definitive" Highsmith biography.

JOAN SCHENKAR lives and writes in Paris and Greenwich Village.

NoirCon 2010

NoirCon 2010

Robert Polito

Robert Polito's most recent books are the poetry collectionHollywood & God (University of Chicago Press) and Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber (Library of America). The Director of the Graduate Writing Program at the New School, he received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson.

Polito at Goodis Gravesite, 2007

Polito at Goodis House, Philadelphia, PA

Howard A. Rodman

Howard A. Rodman is a screenwriter, novelist, educator. He is professor and former chair of the writing division at the USC School of Cinematic Arts; a member of the board of directors of the Writers Guild of America, west; and an artistic director of the Sundance Institute Screenwriting Labs. 

Temple University, 2007

NoirCon 2010

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Noir: The Dark Paraprosdokian


1. Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on my list.

3. Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

4. If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

5. We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

6. War does not determine who is right - only who is left.

7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

8. Evening news is where they begin with 'Good Evening,' and then proceed to tell you why it isn't.

9. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

10. A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.

11. I thought I wanted a career. Turns out I just wanted paychecks.

12. Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says, 'In case of emergency, notify:' I put 'DOCTOR.'

13. I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

14. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.

15. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.

16. A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.

17. I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.

18. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

19. Money can't buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.

20. There's a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can't get away.

21. I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not so sure.

22. You're never too old to learn something stupid.

23. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

24. Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

25. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

26. Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

27. A diplomat is someone who tells you to go to hell in such a way that you look forward to the trip.

28. Hospitality is making your guests feel at home even when you wish they were.

29. I always take life with a grain of salt. Plus a slice of lemon, and a shot of tequila.

30. When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.

Man held for attempted murder of policeman after detention for confining girl expires

  1. How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

  2. Some people are like Slinkies ... not really good for anything, but you can't help smiling when you see one tumble down the stairs.

  3. Dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand on the very edge of the pool and throw them fish.

  4. Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars but check when you say the paint is wet?

  5. Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for president and 50 for Miss America ?

  6. A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

  7. The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!

  8. Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won't expect it back.

  9. A diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you will look forward to the trip.

  10. Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they go.

  1. Some people hear voices. Some see invisible people. Others have no imagination whatsoever.

  2. A bus is a vehicle that runs twice as fast when you are after it as when you are in it.

  3. If you are supposed to learn from your mistakes, why do some people have more than one child?

  4. I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather, not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Noir: Jonestown, The Musical

 What could have been a disaster is, instead, a haunting ode to one of the bleakest moments in American history.

 “But then when I got all those videos from Jonestown and I was studying the footage I realized there would never be a moment of sort of… basically everyone was so brainwashed when the camera was on. To put on the positive face and present Jonestown in a positive light to the world that the camera would never have captured a moment of uncertainty, conflict, any of those things. It’s just not in the records. Until the very end when everything is falling apart in the NBC clips.”

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Noir: R.I.P. Amy Jade Winehouse

Club 27

A group of musicians that died at the age of 27. Members include Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain
"I told him not to go and join that stupid club!  I told him!"


Another addiction death comes at age 27, with Amy Winehouse joining Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and most aptly, Janis Joplin among the rock icons who died from their disorder at the same point in their young lives. And sadly, her passing also presents another occasion for well-intentioned people who misunderstand addiction to push counterproductive solutions.

Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Dave Alexander, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones 

Robert Johnson, strychnine poisoning

Janis Joplin once said that she made love to 25,000 people at her concerts, but went home alone.  It's that yearning for love and acceptance, that aching but unanswered need for connection that underlies both the drive for fame and the pain of addiction, which may be why the two are so often found together.

Forever 27 Header

Noir: The Mathematics of Murder

Set in the post-war Los Angeles boom, the unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short is a cautionary tale about big cities, America's peripatetic population and the dangers of the new vast urban landscapes of the nation. On Jan. 15, 1947, a severely mutilated, naked body, sliced in half at the waist and a grotesque grimace carved into her face, was found not far from Hollywood. The corpse was that of 22-year-old Short, who had moved to California to from the East Coast to pursue an acting career but ended up serving tables. Reporters gave her the nickname "Black Dahlia," perhaps inspired by the recently released Blue Dahlia, a film in the Hollywood noir style about a fighter bomber accused of the death of his faithless wife. (Short had been engaged to a major in U.S. Air Force but he died in a plane crash in August 1945.) The case generated a huge list of potential suspects and possible motives, as well as urban legends about the victim's sexual and moral proclivities. With its morbid air of noir nostalgia, the Black Dahlia has also inspired a large number of novels and movies over the years.  It also inspired a young David Goodis to write about the mathematics of murder.


Although David Goodis has written a great number of murder-mystery series, he is best known for his recent novel, “Dark Passage”, which appeared as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post and is being filmed now as a Warner Brothers’ motion picture.  For many years a student of criminal psychology, Goodis formulates his conscious.  He states that in his many years of obtaining first-hand information of homicide cases, he has been particularly interested on the deeper urges which motivate murder.  In the following article he offers his own personal analysis of the “Black Dahlia” case, based on a careful study of all facts thus far brought to light.

By David Goodis

In algebraic equation, the unknown quantity is “X”.  To arrive at “X” we manipulate the known mathematical symbols until a certain number fulfills all the qualifications of “X”.

The same applies to murder.  In a murder case, “X” is, of course, the identity of the killer.  But to discover that identification, to establish irrevocable proof, homicide experts must run the gamut of procuring evidence, both concrete and circumstantial, in addition to demonstrating motive and intent.

Thus far the “Black Dahlia” case offers a perplexing problem as regards to latter elements.  This is due mainly to the fact that the victim was no ordinary personality.  In the “Black Dahlia” murder, the road that leads to “X” is the road that winds through dark and shadowy depths – the road of the subconscious.

In Subconscious mind
There was something in the subconscious mind of Elizabeth Short that ultimately found its way to external display.  Whatever this was, whatever ghastly, bizarre form it took, it resulted in abnormal, maniacal murder.

It was a sadistic murder.  The killer actually enjoyed what he was doing.  He took his time about it.  He gloated over it.  When he was finished, he was satisfied and pleased.  Yet a significant fact presents itself – he did not go select a second victim.

This leads to an important assumption. 
The killer was no ordinary sadistical killer, such as “Jack the Ripper” of London, whose victims were many, who continued his blood thirsty business even as the police combed the city in frantic search.

In the “Black Dahlia” affair, the killer demonstrates extreme psychotic tendencies – the kind of tendencies that can be brought to surface only by excessive external stimulation.  This therefore, becomes a case where in two unusual personalities met each other, lit the abnormal effect on each other, lit the fuse for a box of mental dynamite.

This killer had that dynamite inside himself.  It may have been there for years – dormant, waiting- it probable that he didn’t even know it was there.  The way he went at his task shows conclusively that he was completely insane at the time.  But when the fit – and it was probably a schizophrenic fit – had reached its breaking-point, the killer was no longer a raving madman, but a cold, calculating murderer.  He took strategic steps to cover his crime.  He washed away the blood, he changed his clothing, he obliterated his tracks methodically, cleverly.

Pure logic points to the fact that the victim was murdered in a deserted shack or remote area, probably on the outskirts of the city.  We know, therefore, that the killer had a car.  And as we again examine the subconscious mind that one night he would meet someone whom he would want to kill in precisely the same manner he eventually killed Elizabeth Short.

He knew exactly what he would do if and when that meeting occurred.  He would lure the girl into his car.  He would take her to that “place”.  He would slaughter her.  All this, mind you, in his subconscious.

To submit an exact description of what took place that night, is, of course, impossible.  But it isn’t too difficult to draw up an approximate picture of the proceedings.

The man – and I am certain it was a man – met her on the street or in a bar.  They talked.  They found each other interesting.  Somewhere along the path of their conversation they fell into the channel of an erotic subject.  It grew.  Within the mind of the man it expanded and formed a chain between the conscious and the subconscious.

Suddenly he was insane – completely.  But Elizabeth Short did not notice this.  She was intrigued by the man.  There was something about him that magnetized her particular personality.  When he invited her to his “place”, she offered no argument.

Now just what happened to set off the spark?  What gesture did she make?  Perhaps an unusual way of lighting a cigarette or smoking.  Perhaps the way she held a highball glass.  Perhaps the pattern of her dress.  Or the way her hair was arranged.  Some “little thing” that has utterly no significance in the lives of normal people, but which was magnified a million times in the distorted mind of the killer.

It amounts to a choice – whether it was a gesture or the spoken word that started him off, it could have been something like this 
                        “….a lot of blood.”
                        “…seen a dog tearing a cat to pieces.”
                        “…never heard nothing like that before.”
Her subconscious mind has expresses something that made contact with his subconscious.

She didn’t know it, but at that moment she was literally asking to
be murdered.

And the murderer himself didn’t know it, but for a long, long time he had been looking for the “Black Dahlia”.  It was the tragic misfortune of Elizabeth Short that she fitted all the eerie requirements. 

This is a case wherein the killer must be baited rather than hunted.  And this brings us back to the algebraic equation.  Our symbols, however, do not involve the usual technical factors of murder, such as the geography of the crime, the time element, the material pieces of evidence.  Inasmuch as this case was activated by an abnormal mind, the process of deduction and ultimate arrest must be analyzed with the ultimate aim of placing her in a psychological category of micro- proportions.

This category must be arranged in the nature of a trap.  As much as the killer wants his freedom, he would much prefer to meet another “Black Dahlia”.  He probably doubts that another exists.  But suppose another one did?  And suppose he found out about it?  Would he suspect that this was a trap?  Probably.  And yet his lunacy would be dominant.  He wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation.

Sooner or later he would be sufficiently stimulated to catch a look at this new “Dahlia”.  Upon seeing her, upon checking to make sure he was on safe ground, he would approach her just as he approached Elizabeth Short.  A wire-recorder, carefully arranged, would listen to the ensuing conversation leading to the ultimate invitation to visit the “place”.  Plain clothes men would move in at the feasible moment.

This technique of arriving at “x” is probably the most difficult and complex in the book.  It must be handled not only with delicacy, but with hair-line precision.  Either the equation balances or doesn’t balance.  There’s no guess work in algebra.