Monday, June 29, 2020

Three Bodies Burning by Brian Bogdanoff

Three Bodies Burning: The Anatomy of an Investigation into Murder, Money, and Mexican Marijuana 
by Brian Bogdanoff
Published 2011 by Press, LLC at Smashwords
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
A haunting triple murder... the inside story of the investigation.When two worlds collide-the illegal transportation of tons of Mexican cartel marijuana to inner city gang members in a Midwestern city's "hood"-three bodies end up burning, caught in a web of greed as a major international drug deal goes very bad.The chilling trail of evidence from a remote wooded area where three bodies are set on fire leads homicide detectives across the country chasing down witnesses and conspirators in a two-year search for cold-blooded killers. This case has it all: murder, piles of cash stashed in the most unlikely of places, a blood-soaked crime scene, the remote dump site for bodies, luxury cars, flashy jewelry, and hundreds of pounds of illegal dope.An unbelievable break takes detectives down the rabbit hole where CSI meets Law & Order and where good old gumshoeing and meticulous forensic procedures bring down a mega-million-dollar drug conspiracy and lock up the bad guys for life.Follow the case through the eyes of the gritty homicide/narcotics detective. A handbook for the amateur criminologist, this book is for true crime fans, prosecutors and defense attorneys, and cops and robbers.Warning: This book contains graphic crime scene photos and adult language.

My Thoughts: 
In my previous job, we were required to have a certain number of hours of fraud training annually. To that end, we attending several lunches hosted by a fraud group every couple of months. Finding people who wanted to speak became difficult and the tie to fraud was often tenuous. For example, the lunch where the county attorney spoke, along with former police officer, who were, to the best of my recollection, talking to us about fraud caused by drug dealing. Completely irrelevant to my line of work but one of the most interesting lunches we ever attended as the former officer was Brian Bogdanoff who spoke about his work in the narcotics division and in solving the crime to which the book title refers. I had every intention of picking up a copy of the book shortly there after and thought of it again when my daughter began studying criminal justice. Eight years later I finally got around to reading it. My thoughts about this book would certainly have been different had I read it years ago. 

I can remember watching the morning news fifteen years ago and learning that three bodies had been found burning just on the edge of Omaha. It's frightening to think that you live in a city where that kind of thing happens. And then, as happens when something ceases to be a news story, I forgot about it. A year later, I recall the trial, in no small part because of the fact that my husband was serving jury duty at that time and, fortunately, was excused from this case. Five years after that, I had forgotten about it again until Bogdanoff talked about it at our lunch and I was fascinated about how the police managed to identify three bodies without identification on them and then track down their murderers. 

I'm still fascinated by that and by the amount of luck, tedious work, and detail it takes to solve crimes like this one. And how much the police rely on the criminals to screw up. Two pieces of paper were left in the pockets of the three men who were killed; had those not been overlooked when the killers emptied the victims' pockets, this case might never have been solved. Finding out who the victims were was key to solving the case - that led officers to their families who confirmed that the men were in Omaha on drug business and gave them the street names of the men the victims had been working with. Still, those were not names the police were familiar with and it would be some months before their identities were discovered. The amount of paperwork and the number of people involved in solving this case are staggering. The detail involved in putting together a case that won't be able to be overturned later due to some technicality is unbelievable. I 100% believe that the men who committed these crimes were terrible people who deserve to spend the rest of their lives in prison and I'm glad that Bogdanoff and the people he worked with were able to find them and get them off the streets of Omaha. 

That being said, in light of things I've learned in the past few years and of my new way of thinking about the way police departments work, I did have some problems with the book. For example, in the first chapter, Bogdanoff says, "...very few times do the good guys, the cops, catch a break or get lucky." It wasn't the only time he referred to the police as "the good guys," setting up "us versus them" mentality that I'm growing to believe is one of the problems with how our criminal justice system works. 

That's reinforced when he defends a practice the policy use known as a "bar check" which caused some problems for him once. He, of course, says he and the other officers involved did nothing wrong and that the leaders of the African-American community who "claimed they were threatened, harassed, and intimidated by officers coming into a celebration they were having" might have been doing so as a media ploy. I can't say for certain, but knowing what I know now, I'm guessing that these "bar checks" were more often done in neighborhoods were persons of color live. Bogdanoff says that they went into that particular bar because there was a "large volume of foot and vehicle traffic in the parking lot of a bar that was directly next to one of the housing projects." It clearly never occurred to him then, or in retrospect, that it might have been anything other than suspicious. Bogdanoff grew up in this town, he'd worked extensively in that neighbor, and I can't help but think that he surely must have recognized some of the people going into that bar. But he says "I...learned that I would face people...who have certain agendas, and to support those agendas, they will manipulate situations and facts." I'm sure he's not wrong, that he did encounter people who did that. Again, though, it doesn't seem to occur to him that he may have done the same thing. 

I wish Bogdanoff had had a better editor - I didn't need to know that the prosecutor from the county attorney's office looked like Diane Lane or that once he could "literally hear [another office] crap his pants." And perhaps a little less of the braggadocio. It's a book that could have been tightened up and more focused. Because there is a hell of a story here and an impressive job of bringing two murders to justice. 

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