"It is impossible that any deed could have been wrought with a more thorough deliberation. For weeks, for months, I pondered upon the means of the murder. I rejected a thousand schemes, because their accomplishment involved a chance of detection. At length, in reading some French memoirs, I found an account of a nearly fatal illness that occurred to Madame Pilau, through the agency of a candle accidentally poisoned: The idea struck my fancy at once. I knew my victim's habit of reading in bed. I knew, too, that his apartment was narrow and ill-ventilated. But I need not vex you with impertinent details. I need not describe the easy artifices by which I substituted, in his bedroom candle-stand, a wax-light of my own making, for the one which I there found. The next morning he was discovered dead in his bed, and the coroner's verdict was, 'Death by the visitation of God.'" --Edgar Allan Poe, 'The Imp of the Perverse,' 1845.
The murder of Jonathan P. Luna is a sprawling case involving municipal, federal, and organized crime entities. It also reaches into the politics of Maryland and Pennsylvania, and without Bill Keisling's book, "The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna," we wouldn't know many of the problems with the government's story. Like the night ride of Paul Revere, Jonathan P. Luna is still warning us of the approaching threat...from his grave. We only need listen to hear his warning. He might be telling us where Special Agent Steven Skinner was that night.
Like the horror of a tale by Edgar Allan Poe, the murder was committed with extreme malice and some forethought. Whoever murdered assistant U.S. attorney Jonathan Luna in the first-days of December back in 2003 is still free, running around. A vicious murderer is free. Perhaps they're still murdering others out there as I write this, roaming the streets of Baltimore, and the mafia environs of Pennsylvania. In our second installment of this conversation, Mr. Keisling and I hit on a number of interesting themes related to the murder of Luna, as well as its cultural context.
One needn't wonder why modern horror arose in America when considering such crimes as the immolation of the Dawson family in Baltimore, or the discovery of the mutilated-corpse of Jonathan Luna, face down in a Pennsylvania stream, states-away from his office and home. Central to all of this is the trial of Walter Poindexter and Deon Smith, proprietors of Stash House records, and known heroin dealers. It was known during the trial of the two (on completely unrelated drug charges) by the U.S. attorney's office under Thomas DiBiagio, that Poindexter had likely murdered one Alvin Jones.
Special Agent Steve Skinner surely knew this was a fact, as the crime was drug-related, and required prosecution under federal law. This was Luna's stance, and no deals of immunity or skirting the crime in the trial were acceptable to the assistant U.S. attorney. Where was the "Safe Streets Task Force" when the Dawsons were calling 911? Watching Stash House's Poindexter and Smith, and chasing their informant Warren Grace around. Why weren't the Dawsons' 36 calls forwarded to the federal task force? There are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding all of these events in Baltimore during the period surrounding the murders in Baltimore and Pennsylvania.
Matt Janovic: Does anybody know what the whereabouts of Special Agent Steve Skinner were on the night [and morning] of Luna's murder?
Bill Keisling: I think that's an important question. ...With a murder, you want to know [where everybody was]. Usually, a murder is a very simple crime with people right there, having committed it. You know, for example, a shooting at a Burger King or a dry cleaner's--you want to know who was there, what was everybody's alibi is, and so that's we have to do that with this case. ...
Matt Janovic: So this hasn't been adequately addressed by any investigation?
Bill Keisling: No, and what I'm trying to do is point people's attention to that very question. The family and the public needs to know where everybody was, and it's just unacceptable not to tell us. You know, again, if this was your family member you'd have a right to know where everybody was. ...You know what? We're going to find it out.
Matt Janovic: So, we don't even know where [informant] Warren Grace was that night, do we?
Bill Keisling: Well, a read of the records says that he was being ferried back-and-forth by agent Skinner and [Baltimore PD] Detective Tom Moody of the quote, unquote "Safe Streets Task Force"[to a Philadelphia jail]. And attorney Ravenell--one of the defense attorneys [for Smith & Poindexter]--wanted Skinner and Moody (this is the last day of Luna's life) to be removed from that duty. They wanted U.S. Marshals to be doing it. Where Grace was being kept was the Philadelphia Detention Center, away from Baltimore while he testified. And the presumption is that they were taking him back-and-forth to Philadelphia before-and-after the trial--that is when they weren't taking him for conjugal visits, and God knows what else...to Disneyland to do heroin... So, here you have Luna driving halfway to Philadelphia that night. Draw your own conclusions.
Matt Janovic: I noticed that, that in the [official] timeline his car avoids Philadelphia at some point.
Bill Keisling: It's like it's driving around Philadelphia--somebody doesn't want to be seen. ...Again, draw your own conclusion.
Matt Janovic: One of the things that I found very interesting in your book was that Special Agent Skinner seemed to know quite a bit about Luna's being in trouble, or subdued, on the day of his no-show at the Poindexter/Smith trial...
Bill Keisling: ...And that's a very important point. In the very last chapter of the book, called "No Man, No Problem," the court records of that are the most remarkable things I have ever read. It's [also] one of the best things I've ever written. There are a couple things: here they're saying that Luna didn't want to do this case. He says the plea deal is unlawful"because Poindexter has committed this drug-related murder [of Alvin Jones]. He says it's unlawful--repeatedly. [laughs] There are all-kinds of meetings and everything else.
The two really important things that happen on that day while Luna's laying face-dead in the stream: they're [federal attorneys and the FBI] up in his office trying to get that plea deal pasted together--so that's called a crime scene, they're violating the crime scene. This would be akin to if you or I and people we knew were in an office and one of their people goes missing. They would know, if they're up in the office, fooling around with those records, that they're going to be in trouble. Well, I think the Justice Department is in trouble, they violated that crime scene, and they're pretending not to know what a crime scene is. First point.
The second point is: as you point out, they're mysteriously telling the judge, "Oh, we're concerned about Luna," while they're up in his office doing this stuff. So, on the one-hand, they're pretending not to know that it's a crime scene, while on the other hand they're running around saying, "Oh, we've got to look for him, we're worried about him," when, as you know, the day before, Luna was late. I made the point that he could have been out skylarking, getting a cup of coffee. They're acting in a very strange way.
Matt Janovic: Has Skinner ever explained his behavior and this air of foreknowledge?
Bill Keisling: No, and we need to have congressional and public hearings about that.
Matt Janovic: One person who seemed to be prominent in the book [Midnight Ride] was the court stenographer. He seemed to be more concerned about the facts surrounding Luna's murder than the FBI.
Bill Keisling: Well, he liked Luna! That's the whole point: that everybody liked Luna, except these goons in the FBI. Who then put out this crap--these blatant falsehoods--to destroy his character [after his murder]. In New York City, we just had two policemen murdered in the line of duty, and you don't hear--I don't know of any other case where you have someone in law enforcement go down, and you have people putting-out what a bad guy he was....except in Luna's case.
Matt Janovic: ...Do you think that a part of Baltimore's problems emanate from organized crime domains in Pennsylvania?
Bill Keisling: Oh certainly. Historically, Baltimore was always a pick-up area between New York, Jersey, Philadelphia, and Pa. mobsters. They always have their own home grown stuff, but it was always fought over. One of the things that's documented in the book is where there's Justice Department figures that there are 50-60 thousand heroin addicts within Baltimore, and another 50-60 thousand addicts in the outlying areas. So, you have around 120,000 heroin addicts, and you do the math...that's a billion dollar industry [per-year].
Matt Janovic: It's massive.
Bill Keisling: It's massive, and obviously it's [the] mob, and obviously for it to continue, it's police corruption.
Matt Janovic: Yeah, it couldn't continue any other way.
Bill Keisling: Again, look at the Warren Grace case. You have an informant dealing heroin, and they know it. They catch him with heroin the same day the Dawson house [burned-down].
Matt Janovic: Do you think that that they [the Baltimore FBI and U.S. attorneys office] were concerned about that serendipitous moment?
Bill Keisling: I think it's what I say in the book--normally, this stuff goes on all the time. The Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post are in the tank, nobody cares, so they figure, "Who's going to give-a-hang?" And what happened when the Dawson house burned down is that suddenly a lot of people cared. Luna was left holding the bag, and he couldn't have liked it. He grew up in that sort of an environment, he wanted to help people like that, and instead he sees that he works with people who are dealing heroin that are protecting perpetrators.
Matt Janovic: I can't imagine he would have done nothing about it.
Bill Keisling: I can imagine that there could be U.S. attorneys and assistants who don't care about that sort of thing. But it seems from Luna's victimology, that he would be the one who would be most likely to care about that sort of thing.
Matt Janovic: Right, he had direct experience with it [drug-related crime] in his childhood [in the Bronx].
Bill Keisling: Yeah, and I find it impossible to believe that Jonathan wouldn't care about that. And again, in the book, his friend Dan Rivera says [paraphrase], "Did you stop to think that all the loopy-things he's doing during the trial were intentionally to get the judge to order an investigation of Skinner?" ...
Matt Janovic: During your investigations, were you ever threatened?
Bill Keisling: Ohhhhh, just by family members who wanted me to do other things! ...My mentality has always been that, I 'd really rather write novels and that I'll probably get back to it. I just think that there's a role in society for writers to write about these things, and we have to do it. I've always been afraid of what happens when people don't do this. ...
Matt Janovic: Why do you think the FBI wanted to take-down Stash House records so badly, and allow an informant like Warren Grace to run around terrorizing his neighbors and deal drugs?
Bill Keisling: Well, the book gets into that. The court reporter makes the point that, here they have 100 hours of [surveillance] tape--this isn't 'Gone With the Wind.' ...You need 40 seconds of tape to have somebody taking the drugs and exchanging money for it, case closed. ...Here's what the public should understand: at the very time that the Dawsons were trying to get help (before they burned alive with their kids), the FBI's Safe Streets Task Force was trying to take over a rap music studio. That's what they were busy doing--dealing heroin and trying to take over a rap music studio...
Matt Janovic: But couldn't that have been [U.S. attorney Thomas] Dibiagio's fault?
Bill Keisling: Although he's in-charge, if you get into the history of the FBI, these guys pretty much do what they want. Relations [between the Baltimore U.S. attorneys' office and] with the Bureau weren't all that good. The point is, when the Dawson's home burned down, you have this guy who did it--Darrell Brooks--[and] you have DiBiagio coming-out saying this drug punk's going to be put away forever, but he doesn't mention the drug punks he's responsible for. I think they thought Smith and Poindexter would flip, that the FBI would be controlling Stash House records, and I think it was almost cynical and funny to them that you would have all these young rappers coming in and rapping their crimes into the FBI's microphone.
Matt Janovic: So, would they have just kept running it [Stash House records] as a business, as a front for years and years?
Bill Keisling: That's a good question, and I think the record shows that that's what happens.
Matt Janovic: ...I suppose this is getting into really arcane federal statutues, but what if they ran-a-profit?
Bill Keisling: [agreeing] What if they put-out good records? [laughter all-around]
Matt Janovic: What if they had a hit?
Bill Keisling: [laughing] I don't know Matt! [a hilarious conversation on "mother-approved" pornography ensues, as well as the bizarreness of what government-approved rap might be] ...the whole thing was incompetent: Skinner, Moody, the Safe Streets Task Force, the death of the Dawsons was an atrocity--the public should understand that family burned to death because these guys were dealing heroin, they didn't want to answer the phone, and they were trying to take over a rap music studio. What was going on, and what wasn't going-on?
Matt Janovic: One gets the feeling when reading 'The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna," that either not much has changed since Edgar Allan Poe lived there [Baltimore], or that things have come full-circle. Which do think might be the case?
Bill Keisling: Oh, I kinda like your idea that not much has changed. In the Poe case, actually he was found dying just a few-blocks away from that federal courthouse. Now the best guess is that he was a victim of a practice called "cooping" where you would take unsuspecting people and give them liquor and put different clothes on them and march them around to the polling places. The polling place bar where he was found outside of, a week-or-so before (he couldn't have known), but it was charged that that practice was going on there. It was a sheriff's election. I think Edgar Allan Poe might be the most important writer America has produced.
Matt Janovic: Absolutely. I have to ask a question [relating to the case of] Ms. Palfrey. It's interesting that in both cases--that of [former Baltimore Police Commissioner] Ed Norris and Ms. Palfrey, that you have involvement of the IRS, harrassment of said defendent's families, use of "cooperating witnesses" (or "confidential informants")--but in Palfrey's case, FBI investigators are curiously absent. Why do you think that is?
Bill Keisling: I'm sure they're busy doing other things, huh? What I say in [Midnight Ride] is that you don't often see the FBI's fingerprints, they're more like little traces. You know what I mean?
Matt Janovic: Their role can sometimes be submerged.
Bill Keisling: Right. You can see little traces of it, almost like Luna's EZ pass. You see these little clues, and I think that's the way they like it.
Matt Janovic: What do you think is the significance of this new development with Luna's father contacting the Lancaster [Pennsylvania] county coroner?
Bill Keisling: Well I think his father has the right to that, and what happened here was this gadfly went and filed on his own behalf saying he was representing the friends and family, and it gave the courts the excuse to shut everybody out. But that said, I interviewed the undertaker, and I know what the wounds were, and they're pretty horrific. I think that there's disinformation that they put out--suicide, bogus information about Luna's alleged personal life...you put out stuff like that to distract people from what they should be looking at; and what we should be looking at is the Safe Streets Task Force, Skinner and Moody, their handling of Warren Grace, the deaths of the Dawsons--I think that's where we need to be turning our attention.
Now, where it really ties-in with Palfrey is, that in Pennsylvania, in a murder case, you don't release the autopsy report because you want to have information there that only the perpetrator would know about. So, it's a tool for law enforcement to keep certain cards close to the vest, so that you can identify the true perpetrator who would have information about this. That said, what's in-common between this case and Palfrey's is, the Justice Department isn't acting in good faith--as we saw with Vitter and Tobias--they're actually concealing law-breaking with their actions, and that's unacceptable. ...The public can take the truth, the public is smart [enough].
End of Part II
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