Monday, September 22, 2008

Smiley Face Murders: Pattern Or Coincidence?

I don’t remember the researcher’s name or the title of his work, but one detail from his writing stuck in my mind. This researcher had a universal explanation to the causation of alien abduction stories. The experiencers, he stated, were sensitive to electro-magnetic radiation and this sensitivity triggered terrifying hallucinations.

For example, he interviewed one self-proclaimed abductee and he knew his theory was correct when he spotted an electric power line right outside the man’s apartment window.

Look outside your window. Most likely there’s a power line in view.

Sometimes there are patterns that point to an underlying reality. Other times what appears to be a pattern is just dumb coincidence or the result of overlooking how ubiquitous a certain object or motif may be.

Take graffiti. It’s everywhere, especially in secluded areas where taggers are less apt to be caught. And among the most common spray-painted symbols are smiley faces.

So if violent crime occurs more often in areas marked with graffiti, should we immediately assume a direct connection between crime and graffiti? That graffiti artists are more likely to be violent? Or is the real connection that secluded areas aren’t patrolled that often by the police, thus offering more opportunities for muggings and assaults?

This points to the nub of the problem with what some call the Smiley Face Murders. What some see as evidence, others regard as coincidence.

According to the Smiley Face Murders theory, young college men throughout the country are being murdered during the fall and winter months when the weather is colder. While drinking at a bar, someone slips a drug into the victim’s drink. Later the victim is shoved into a river at an off-the-beaten-path spot. He drowns due to his drugged state and the shock of hypothermia.

The gang or person behind the murders is careful to leave no signs of struggle or foul play. The incident is ruled as an accidental drowning. The murder or murderers still want recognition for the crime and so a spray-painted smiley face is left behind, a covert acknowledgement.

Recently the Plattsburgh State University student newspaper, Cardinal Points, ran a front-page story about one father who believes his son was a victim of the Smiley Face Gang. (Cardinal Points, 9/19/08 print edition. Online link.) Bill Szostak’s son, Josh, had attended PSU. Josh Szostak turned up missing in December of last year after drinking at an Albany bar. His body wasn’t found about four months later, 30 miles away from where he went missing. The death was officially ruled an accidental death by drowning.

Believers in the Smiley Face Murders point out that because a body isn’t recovered until some time later, any traces of a date rape drug in the victim has disappeared.

It’s tragic when a loved one dies. It’s more tragic when it appears that his death was the result of an accident, a bit of bad luck. Such a death appears to be senseless.

But for some people death has to be more than a random event in an impersonal universe. A tragic death can have some sort of meaning if it was a result of a higher purpose, part of God’s plan, if you will.

Bill Szostak in the Cardinal Points article warns students about the danger of being drugged while out drinking. He advises students to stay in groups where there is safety. It’s commendable that he’s making college students aware of these issues.

At the same time he is also trying to bring the Smiley Face Murderers to justice. He plans to present a petition to congress challenging the contention by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies that the death of his son and others are nothing more than accidental drownings.

Is there a Smiley Face Gang or Murderer out there?

Or is the universe at times random, capricious? And finite men vainly try to place a pattern on the infinite?


Doug said...

This seems more to question whether one believes there's a being or power or force in control of the universe or not.

And your last line questions whether that being/power/force is in control all the time or just some of the time.

Conceivably, either the universe is random and capricious all the time, or there's a pattern to it all the time. The alternative is that the power in control only bothers to exert that influence when it pleases.

Which is undoubtedly the sort of pattern we humans would see.

X. Dell said...

(1) I think you're talking about Dr. Michael Persinger>, a neurologist who feels that electromagnetic activity causes people to imagine seeing gray aliens.

(2) I've never heard of the Smiley Face Murders (sorry, been living under a rock lately), until now. You prompted me to look into it a bit. At first glance, this seems like little more than a snipe hunt. There was reportedly one murder where police had independent corrobrating evidence of a homicide at a river near a smiley face graffito. I'd love to know what that evidence is, though, I understand why they'd want to keep it under wraps.

You're right in addressing this in the perspective of causality theory. We've been struck by a lot of false causal factors over the years, and this has actually led to policy (e.g., trickle-down economics as opposed to bonafide supply-side economics).

I would say, on the other hand, that the Smiley Face hypothesis is worth testing by dint of investigation. I suspect it's a snipe hunt, right now. Others might suspect it's a snipe hunt. But I would be the first to admit that I don't know. Neither do they. Because the consequences are so dire (potential future victims) it is paramount to pursue the outlandish theory until you can prove it either feasible, or impossible.