Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bombs, Sharks and Survivors

Yesterday, an 86 year-old World War II veteran told my students stories about watching his buddies get eaten by sharks. "We could hear the screams when they were taken down. A few were still floating in their life vests," he said, "but when you grabbed them, only the top half of their bodies bobbed out of the water."

He told them about his hallucinations after floating for five days in the open sea without food or water – he saw turkey sandwiches raining from the skies - as more of his buddies dove under, convinced that they could "get a drink" on their sunken ship below, only to die horrible deaths from swallowing salt water hours later.

Eugene Morgan's ship, the USS Indianapolis, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in July of 1945, not long after making their top-secret delivery of the A-Bomb to the island of Tinian. From Tinian, the bomb was picked up by the Enola Gay and dropped on Hiroshima. He and 315 others, out of the 1199 on board, survived and returned home, virtually unnoticed, amidst newspaper headlines proclaiming the end of the war.

Around 70 of these survivors are still around, and "Blackie" is one of the tough ones left; he lives in West Seattle, where he became a firefighter after the war. He eagerly agreed to speak to my class when I told him we were reading the book about the "worst disaster in the US Navy's history," In Harm's Way, by Doug Stanton.

"Not many young people know about this," he told me on the phone. "I want them to know the truth, that the Navy has covered this up for years. I want them to know that my captain's record should be completely cleared."

There was a lot to be shocked about in the book. My students projected disbelief when they read about the only US Navy court-martial of Captain Charles McVay for “failure to zigzag” and his subsequent suicide in 1968. It didn’t make sense to them that he could be exonerated in 2001, yet have the mark remain on his record.

But mostly, they wanted to know about the sharks.

"What made you keep going?" one student asked.

Blackie, who wore a navy-colored survivor shirt, hat and coat (the back of the shirt read “Still at Sea,”) answered, "Well, I guess I had seen more action than many of the others (four years of duty on the Indy), so I might have been a bit tougher than the new recruits we had just picked up. I just decided that I was going to make it. Plus, I hear that sharks don't like Polish Sausage, and I'm Polish."

A survivor of torpedoes, salt water, dehydration, sharks, twenty-seven years of Seattle fires, two snow day reschedules and, because of lines like that, now a survivor and hero of high school students.

That is quite a resume.

He got deep and political with us, too. He talked about revering President Truman for making the tough decision to drop the A-Bomb. He said that by doing so, he saved so many lives, and that many of us sitting in that room were probably here as a result of that decision. He said we need to get out of Iraq, now. He also asked us all to do what we could to serve our country. "I put in my time, now it is your turn. By the look of you, I can feel good leaving my grandchildren in your hands. Freedom is the most precious thing you have. Protect it above all else." He also told us that when he dies, he wants his cremated remains to be scattered over the waters between Guam and Leyte, so that he can rest with his good buddies and his ship. But no, he sure doesn’t like being near the water now, not even for a ferry ride to Bremerton.

My students asked him questions for over half an hour after his talk. Then they stood in line to shake his hand, thank him for serving their country, and to have him sign their books (and one cast). One girl claimed she wouldn't wash her hand for a week.

Fortunately, a reporter and a photographer from The Everett Herald captured all of this, and a story will appear in the local section either Friday or Saturday. In response to the negative press that alternative high schools have received lately (the Times' articles about the lack of education taking place at John Marshall Alternative), I sent emails to the education editors at the Times and The Herald giving them a heads up about Mr. Morgan's impending visit and the positive things going on at Scriber. I told them how my students had been indignant about the bad press. "Hey, we've read four books this semester! We should go to John Marshall where they don't have to do anything." Of course, they would rescind these statements quickly (and proudly).

Yesterday, my students certainly knew the importance of being able to meet "living history.” Eugene was impressed with them, too. On the way out to his car, he said to me, "What a great group. That was fun. They knew more about this than any other group of kids I have ever talked to. I couldn't believe how many questions they asked. That sure was fun." He has already called me twice to make sure I will send him the article from the paper.

Today, their thank you notes contained lines such as "I am doing my part to tell everyone to read this book, so that your friends will not have died in vain," "you have inspired me to be a better person,” “thank you for making it possible for us to live in freedom.”

The most popular comment? “I hope your captain gets his record cleared."

Because, you know, they get that.

(link to Herald story:

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A Note about Refrigerators

Because of popular demand (my brother is very popular and he demanded), I am posting my write-up describing my star performance on Evening Magazine last November below. Just so you know.

Refrigerator Nostalgia

Last week I was hit by an asteroid while crossing the Aurora Bridge on Hwy 99. While this should have been featured on Evening Magazine, it was not; however, getting hit by an asteroid is a very good way to start any story. The next day, I had my windshield replaced and also posted this Craigslist ad:

Microwave and/or small refrigerator

Reply to:
Date: 2005-11-05, 12:09AM PST

I teach at an alternative high school where I have ten students in a twenty minute "family" class every day. I would like to make a “classroom kitchen” where my students are able to recharge, relax, drink cocoa, make popcorn, etc. If you have a microwave and/or a small refrigerator not in use, I would love to take them off your hands. Thank you!

Out of the 12

responses I receive, the one I call happens to be the mother of someone I know, Josh Green. Josh is currently the chef of Ponti, but I know him because he dated my former yearbook editor, Jessica McCarthy, back in high

school. A few months ago when I volunteered at FareStart, Josh was the Guest Chef; during our conversation there, he tells me that his father is the principal of Shorewood HS. The woman on the phone who wants to give me her microwave happens to mention that her husband is the principal at Shorewood (since I wanted the items for my classroom). This anecdote is just a little side note in the story…but I was floored by the coincidence. The day after picking up the Green microwave in Magnolia, I receive this response from my ad:

From: ""


Subject: refriger


Date: Mon, 7 Nov 2005 06:56:51 -0500

I have a small refrigerator available for no charge, but there is a small

catch. I took it as a souvenir from my job at the Atlanta police

department a few years ago. It was evidence in the Andnem Sihntar serial

killer case. It works fine, runs quietly, and it even has a little freezer

compartment inside. But Mr. Sihntar used it to store body parts. To give

you an idea of the size, it held 3 heads, a foot, and 7 cans of Pepsi when

it was found. I don't want it anymore, and I'd hate to throw it away since

it works. But I th

ought you should know its background first. Contact me

at if you're interested. Pickup in Lynnwood.

I laugh because it is sick yet funny, and I Google Andhem Si

ntar’s name (just in case)… I find nothing on him. I read the posting out loud to my classes and of course they want me to accept the fridge - badly. I tell them that this guy should get an award for creativity, but that it isn’t true. I also forward the ad to some of my friends and say, “I don’t want this, but maybe you do…” That evening, I get a response from my friend Dennis. The “streak” he is referring to is some good karma I had mentioned to him a few days before.

Date: Mon, 7 No

v 2005 10:59:58 -0800 (PST)

From: "Dennis Hartman"

Subject: Re: FW: refrigerator

To: "Marjie Bowker"

Oh my god! Your streak was bound to end sometime, but who knew it would happen so spectacularly? I'm pretty sure I saw this case on "Forensic Files" a couple months ago. The name and Atlanta both are familiar. It was memorable because he was a woodworker and he used industrial tools to cut up his victims (i.e., dismembering them with a bandsaw, and turning bones on a lathe to make chopsticks or something). Pretty messy. Also, I think his name was an anagram for something -- can't remember what. How totally bizarre you should be drawn into a serial murder drama...

So, are you going to

take the fridge?

Dennis watches very strange TV. OK, so was Dennis’ memory serving him correctly? Later that evening, he sends me this:

Date: Mon, 7 Nov 2005 20:20:24 -0800 (PST)

From: "Dennis Hartman"

Subject: found it

To: “Marjie Bowker”

Here's the one I was thinking of. I'll Tivo it if it airs again.

"Little Woodshop of Horrors" — The Andnem Sihntar Case

When Atlanta college students begin vanishing, an entire community starts searching for answers. Investigators wonder if the cases are linked. The question is answered when a boy scout troop makes a grisly discovery. Tracing the perpetrator's movements not only leads them to refrigerated remains, but also a nightmarish woodshop where the killer plied his craft. DNA profiling and a hidden fingerprint help detectives unlock the real name behind the killer's anagram, and seal the case against him.

The following forensic terms are used in this episode. For fuller

definitions, click on

any term.
Autopsy - The internal examination of a body after death...
Bloodstain Interpretati

on - Th

e interpretation of size, shape, orientation, and distribution of bloodstains on vari

ous surfaces...

print - The unique patterns created by skin ridges found on the palm sides of fingers and thumbs.
Forensic Science - The


ation of science to law and the investigation of criminal activity.
Medical Examiner - A medical doctor who determines ca

uses of

death, performs autopsies, and acts as an expert witness...
Trace Evidence - Material deposited at a crime scene that can only be detected thro

ugh a d

eliberate processing procedure.

I can’t believe it, it’s true! The killer exists, and his refrigerator has made its way to Lynnwood and it is being offered to me – but not only his refrigerator. I receive this email th

e following day:


Reply To:


Subject: more

Date: Mon, 7 Nov 2005 19:57:48 -0500

I left an email earlier about the refrigerator. It occured to me your high

school might be a good home for some other items I want to get rid of. I

also have several commercial grade woodworking tools. I don't know if high

schools still have wood shop as a class? There is a router, lathe, planer,

table saw, and a large band saw. They all work fine and are industrial

models. buffer01@comcast if interested.

I forward

this to Dennis. I am really freaked out. “What else can you find out?” I ask him. Meanwhile, I read the postings to my classes and they are horrified/delighted and really, really want the fridge and the t

ools now. Later that day, Dennis sends me this article from the Atlanta Journal:

Date: Mon, 7 Nov 2005 23:04:52 -0800 (PST)

From: "Dennis Hartman"

Subject: holy crap

To: “Marjie Bowker”

Sorry I missed your call -- just got home and saw your email. Jeez. Maybe the meteorite was an omen. Check out this article. (You didn't answer my question: are you going to get the fridge?)

Woodshop Killer Deat

h Was

Suicide, Says Board of Inquiry


The Atlanta Journal-

Published on: 09/04/05

The Georgia Prisons Commissioner said today

the death of the "Woodshop Killer" w

as a suicide. On July 11, Andnem Sihntar was found dead in his cell at Reidsville State Prison, with no obvious signs of


a. He was serving a life sentence for the murders of six Atlanta area college students. A special Board of Inquiry was convened to inv

estigate claims he w

as killed to protect police officials he said had framed him.


· Bar patrons say NFL cheerleaders had

sex in bathroom

· Richt

left behind by escalating pay


Ship's Passengers Recount Pirate A


· Senoia pastor sermo

nizes against Sunday liquor sales

· Vick,

Falcons pass a big test

Full autopsy results have not been released, and

Commissioner Fred Rogers declined to annou

nce the cause of death. "I cannot share the findings o

f the medical examiner until the Board of Inquiry

completes its report to the Governor. But in light of the

allegations of police misconduct I feel it's important to share that this death wa

s clearly a suicide." Rogers said the full report, including the

medical findings, would be made public by the end of the month.

Sihntar's 2002 trial revealed investigative sloppiness in the Atlant

a PD, and was a public relations disaster for the DA's Office. During cross-examination

, the arresting officers unex

pectedly invoked their fifth amendment right against self-incrimination, seriously weakening the DA's case. Also during the trial

, it was

discovered that evidence lab technician Michael Buff was actually Sihntar's estranged step-brother. Media coverage of Bu

ff revealed

he had a long criminal record of fraud and domestic violence. Defense attorneys argued that Buff and the arresting officers conspired to fram

e Sih

ntar, and implied Buff was involved in the murders. Buff was fired two days before Sihntar was convicted. The officer

s were suspended with pay, and

later reinstated.

If you look back at th

e sender’s address, it’s Michael Buff, the lab technician. A chill passes over me; my only consolation is that I posted the Craigslist ad anonymously. But my ad has definitely

attracted a wacko, and he seems to want attention. I email the article and the responses to my friend who is a sergeant at the Lynnwood Police Department and ask him to look up a “Michael Buff of Lynnwood.”

The next morning, feeling very spooked (and SO jumpy), I go to school and on my way into class I tell my colleague, Jeff, to come in and take a look at the emails. “You won’t believe this,” I tell him. When I open up my hotmail, there are two new messages from Buffer (check out the subject line on the first one):


Reply To: buffer0

To: “Marjie Bowker”


Date: Tue, 8 Nov 2005 10:23:27 -0500

Do you want the fridge?

I am speechless. I see that Buffer has emailed the message to my personal hotmail account, which is my first and last name. “He knows who I am,” I tell Jeff, and I begin to hyperventilate. If he knows my name, he knows where I teach and where I live. I see that the other message contains “crime scene photos” but I can’t bring myself to open them. “How does he know my name?” I keep asking Jeff, but Jeff is as baffled as I am. Did he disable something in Craigslist? Does he work for Craigslist? I start to cry (actually my eyes are just watering a bit). Finally, I try to open the pictures, but something blocks them from opening. For long minutes, Jeff and I try to figure out what to do. Finally, I’m able to open the second picture:


Reply To:

To: “Marjie Bowker”

Subject: crime scene photos for you

Date: Tue, 8 Nov 2005 10:44:34 -0500

Ok, since you don't want the fridge or the slightly used woodshop tools,

here's something else that might interest you. One photo is a mugshot

following my arrest for "Pranking in the 1st Degree." The other d


s my

Lederhosen Gang preparing to commit "Felony Kinderspa

zen". Have you

figured out the "Andnem S

ihntar" anagram yet? Keep t


Jeff thinks they are pictures of Buffer’s

victims, but I know this kid in a tie and lederhosen. These pictures are of Dennis, as a kid. Dennis had shown them to me a few weeks before. It takes me a moment to get myself together to explain, even though I still don’t get it. “This is my friend,” I tell Jeff. My face is red, I am laughing and crying. Jeff’s response… “I want to meet your friend”- then he figures out the anagram: Andhem Sintar is a scrambled form of “Dennis Hartman.” Dennis must have cut and pasted his anagram into a real story from Atlanta. (Later, Jeff admits that for one moment, one brief period of time before the truth was revealed, he regretted ever meeting me - due to my connection with Buffer…)

So…that story is still not why I am on Evening Magazine, but before I tell you that part, I must relate that I went through the whole email string with my terrified classes. I get to the one that says “I WILL NOT BE IGNORED” and some of the girls are out of their seats, whimpering…”He’s going to kill you, Marjie!” Then I ask them if they want to see the crime scene photos (heightened by the fact that I have new technology and can project my laptop on a big screen in the front of the room), and of course their anticipation is delicious. When they finally see the disappointing pictures, I tell them the truth of my “friend” behind the whole thing. They are quickly renewed. They watch Ashton Kutcher’s “Punk’d” and now Dennis is their new hero. The story spreads through the school like crazy and I am famous. But not Evening Magazine famous, yet.

After school, I call Dennis and give him a going over. I am still feeling the remnants of being stalked by the woodshop killer. I can’t shake it and my adrenaline is high. I tell him the parts about the police and crying, and he begins to repent. If the pictures had opened right away, I wouldn’t have experienced the terror…he sent the “ignore” message and the pictures at the same time to my account so that I would figure it out quickly. He buys me dinner. At dinner, he tells me that after I had stopped by his Queen Anne house post- microwave-in-Magnolia, he had gone onto Craigslist, found my ad, and answered it with the body parts in the fridge message. His plan was to ask me, in a few weeks, “Did you ever get any more responses from that ad you placed?” But then I had forwarded his own posting to him, and he said he had to continue. He had written the two articles himself, made webpages and cut and pasted the logos (Dennis is currently unemployed).

But Dennis continues to feel worse for making me cry. The next day he calls and says he is going to buy my class a refrigerator. I tell him that someone else from Craigslist offered to sell me one for $35, and that she lives close to Scriber. Dennis offers to pick up the fridge and deliver it to me at school, but says it won’t be until about 4. So I stay at school late and wait, and wait… Finally, Dennis calls and says he is out in the parking lot. I run out to meet him and he is being followed by a girl with a microphone and a guy with a camera. They are from Evening Magazine. Dennis tells me that he contacted them to record his apology. I tell Dennis he is a really freaky friend. Privately, I think, wow, his ego has gotten really huge over this.

They follow me into my classroom and record Dennis setting up the fridge, then apologizing to me. I think it is very, very strange, but the camera is rolling. When it is all set up, of course I open the door to the fridge. The contents make me recoil, slam the door and run to the other side of the room. There are two human heads in the fridge.

So that is what will show on Evening Magazine, and this is why: (No, they are not putting Dennis away, although maybe the police will after seeing the show and realizing that he made illegal web pages). The day after revealing himself as Buffer, when Dennis decides to buy my class a refrigerator, he posts the following Craigslist want ad:

need fake human head

Reply to:

Date: 2005-11-08, 9:01PM PST

I’m looking for fake human heads to punctuate a well-crafted prank. A single head would be fine, but I’m hoping to find 3-4 in order to fill a mini-fridge. The perfect head would be life-sized and latex. Gory wounds or missing eyes are ok. A head in a jar would also suffice. Maybe someone has some Halloween leftovers?

You already know he got the heads, but that part is freaky, too. A resident on Queen Anne (Dennis’ neighborhood) replied and said he would put his two latex heads in a plastic bag, put Dennis’ name on it, and leave it at Starbucks…no charge for the heads, by the way. So, Dennis picks up the heads (left anonymously, in a plastic bag…!). When he returns home, he finds another reply to his ad:


My name is Kim. I’m a reporter for Evening Magazine. It just so happens that we’re doing a whole special on things people buy, sell, ask for, etc. on Craigslist and classified ads. We “love” your ad and wonder if we could talk to you briefly about it. The special wouldn’t air for more than a week, so it hopefully wouldn’t ruin your prank. We’re looking for the “stories” attached to the ads – and it sounds like you might have a good one.

Here’s how to reach me:

Kim Griffis

Reporter/Evening Magazine


We’re on a deadline, so please let us know soon if you are willing to play along.

Thank you!!!


“Play along?”…Dennis? He claims that he was second-guessing whether or not to put the heads in the fridge, but my guess is that he didn’t hesitate long before calling Kim and planning when and where to meet (mumbling “he he he” while wringing his hands together, no doubt). The first thing Kim says to Dennis when she sees him is “Well, you look normal!”

But he isn’t. I don’t know how to be friends with him anymore. I don’t think that Craigslist even exists, but rather that he started it five years ago and marketed it aggressively in order to play this trick on me. How many layers can a prank have? Dennis says that all he really did was send that first email. Quoting him, “After that first email, it was no longer mine. I was just a slave to IT.”

I think there is one thing we can agree upon…all of us. Dennis needs a job. Or he needs to get hit by an asteroid.

Anyway, the show will air on Monday the 21st of November. I’m sure there will only be a five second clip of me and that in that clip I will look completely baffled and stupid. Dennis, on the other hand, got an entire interview outside of Scriber (while I was waiting and waiting for him) and I’m sure he’s quite smooth, like the Devil.

Whatever the case, it’s my five seconds of fame, and I am still relieved that it’s not due to my head filling a mini-fridge. Stay tuned for stories of which students I choose to open the fridge on Monday and how they react!