Our story picks of the week, featuring London Review of Books, Billboard, Texas Observer, Narratively and Slate.
A man, deep in debt, hides in the woods of East Texas for several months, stealing from the residents of a small community:
Few residents were willing to discuss the run of break-ins—the sheriff estimates at least 35 in all—that spanned most of 2013. Dyes Kountry Katfish, the last spot in town where locals might gather to gossip about the mystery over iced teas and fried lunch, went out of business in 2011. But privately, in homes or at the school nearby in Woden, residents spun their theories. Popular opinion first blamed delinquent youth on spring break; investigators even pulled kids out of classrooms for questioning. The sheriff’s department rushed out for calls about suspicious vehicles that could be the thieves’ getaway cars. Deputies patrolled Melrose at night in unmarked cars and called in the Texas Department of Public Safety to fly over the area. But the break-ins continued—cars, homes and abandoned trailers—without a sign of the culprit. Cash and Social Security cards disappeared from wallets, but oddly, not checks or credit cards. The thief plucked food, guns and other tools of the outdoors from their homes, but perhaps most disturbingly, he robbed residents of the secluded security they prized above all.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 5, 2014
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6362 words)
How the manager of a million-dollar horse breeding facility became an informant on one of Mexico's most feared cartels: Los Zetas.
"Key to the operation in the United States was Jose Treviño, a U.S. citizen with a clean record who had never wanted anything to do with his family’s illicit dealings, until Miguel gave him $25,000 to buy Tempting Dash. 'You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family,' Jose often said.
"The FBI wanted Graham to keep working with Jose Treviño and see where it led. He reluctantly agreed to cooperate. Within months, the young horse agent with a Texas A&M ring and an Aggie bumper sticker on his truck was given a Nextel cell phone with a wiretap. The FBI would be listening to every phone conversation Graham had with his new business associates. Unwittingly, Graham, heir to a Texas horse-racing empire, had become an informant on one of the world’s most lethal crime syndicates."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 7, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4702 words)
In the summer of 2012, a homeless man named William Greer Jr. was bludgeoned to death in a park in Austin, Texas. Greer's case remains unsolved, and his daughter is determined to find answers:
"In the weeks that followed her dad's death, Tangie drove to Austin three times: once to speak to police, once to speak to reporters, and once to commemorate what would have been Greer's 50th birthday on July 29. On one of those visits, Tangie went to the spot where her father lost his life. She spoke to a transient named Chris who sleeps nearby and asked him if he had seen anything the night of the murder. She knew detectives had already questioned him—and eliminated him from their investigation—but maybe he had forgotten to tell them something that could prove crucial. 'I was playing detective in a way,' Tangie told me.
"Chris told her he didn't remember her dad, but that he did recall another transient sleeping at the same spot before Greer's murder, and afterward. He gave her a description of the man, and Tangie relayed the information to detectives. But she says they told her Chris wasn't reliable. 'If you interviewed him eight times, you'll get eight different answers,' a detective said."
PUBLISHED: April 2, 2013
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3209 words)
Parents of children on the autism spectrum are wading through a considerable amount of information on the Internet purporting effective treatment and "cures" for autism. A majority of the treatments have been discredited:
"Almost by accident, Laidler says he and Ann, discovered the diet they’d put their son on didn’t work. 'He was gluten-free and we thought it was a miraculous cure for our son because he’d made pretty dramatic strides from the age of 3 to 4. We were starting to see real progress. But on a trip to Disneyland, he grabbed a waffle off the table and ate it before we could stop him. Doctors had told us that one drop [of gluten] would cause a dramatic relapse—we’d been told anecdotal stories that a speck of wheat bread would cause an autistic child to have weeks of bad behavior. And nothing happened.'
"The Laidlers had also tried chelating their son, and as physicians they had helped other families who wanted to try it. 'Nobody ever told me it did any good. So to regain my sense of mental balance I started asking a lot of pointed questions: Have you tried chelation? What was the result? Ninety percent of people I asked said they saw no improvement.'"
PUBLISHED: Jan. 30, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5712 words)
Hundred of international parental child abduction cases are reported to the U.S. State Department each year, and left-behind parents are finding it difficult to receive help:
"Monica Sanchez, who lives in San Marcos, bounced between law enforcement agencies for days after her ex-boyfriend, Armando Muñoz Garcia, abducted their 2-year-old daughter Sarahi in January 2012. Sanchez reported the kidnapping to the San Marcos Police Department, but officers told her they needed proof of legal custody in order to help her. The Guadalupe County Sheriff’s Office said the same thing.
"Sanchez had filed for custody of her daughter, but the court hadn’t ruled in the case. Under the law, it’s a crime for one parent to take a child out of the country without the other parent’s permission. Sanchez didn’t know this.
"The federal government requires law enforcement agencies to immediately report missing children under the age of 18 to the National Crime Information Center, whether the parent filing the report has a custody order or not. And Texas recently approved a law that makes international abductions a felony. Yet most law enforcement officers refuse to file missing persons reports without a custody order, which requires an attorney and takes time and money to acquire. In the meantime, a parent can slip out of the country with his child before officers can stop him."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 31, 2012
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2258 words)
A couple's personal experience dealing with Texas's new sonogram law, which requires a woman to have a sonogram and hear a doctor describe her child before moving forward with an abortion:
"'I don’t want to have to do this at all,' I told her. 'I’m doing this to prevent my baby’s suffering. I don’t want another sonogram when I’ve already had two today. I don’t want to hear a description of the life I’m about to end. Please,' I said, 'I can’t take any more pain.' I confess that I don’t know why I said that. I knew it was fait accompli. The counselor could no more change the government requirement than I could. Yet here was a superfluous layer of torment piled upon an already horrific day, and I wanted this woman to know it."
PUBLISHED: March 15, 2012
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2256 words)
He holds one up. It’s an album of norteño music, a style native to Northern Mexico. On it is a line drawing of what looks like the Frito Bandito holding an AK-47 in one hand and a half-naked woman in the other. The title says “Canciones Chingones”—Badass Songs. Saenz darkens. “You see this?” he says. “This is why conjunto is dying. This is why our culture is dying. It’s because of this garbage.” He notices the cashier, a woman in her 20s, staring at him. He turns to her. “Do you know what conjunto is?” She eyes him nervously. “It’s ... you know. It’s conjunto.”
PUBLISHED: May 28, 2011
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2778 words)