Life in the Real Desert: Sleeping in a Cloudy Oven

Cloudy sky in Quartzsite, AZThe real desert is cloudy today. It has a solid covering of dark hues which cries occasionally and lets a few dry tears plummet to earth. Striking tin roofs with a clunky, non-melodic rhythm that is short lived yet oddly comforting. The covering floated in yesterday, slowly filling the vast Arizona sky with something that resembled peaceful candy floss (cotton candy) with varying tints of color. The temperature was a cool 106 degrees Fahrenheit despite the lack of direct sun and sleeping in this stuporous heat felt like being in a cloudy oven.

I tweeted, at half 10 last night, that the temperature was a staggering 91 degrees. I watched RIPD, with Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Louise Parker (whom I have a huge schoolboy crush on, sorry Mary) and Kevin Bacon while baking on high for the duration. The heat from my laptop was a little worrying on top of all that external heat. I checked and the mercury inside the house was standing at 99 degrees and I switched the thing off afterward.

Until then, I sat with all windows open and a pedestal fan scant inches from my face and the laptop. I sat oozing sweat and battled the elements in order to be fair to the comedy action film. (After all that “suffering” I found I did enjoy the film after all.)

Around midnight I gave up waiting for the heat to drop much further, the gauge outside on the porch read 82, and I crawled, sans PJs into bed. I lay on top of the sheets with fluid leaking in a steady stream from the back of my neck. By the time morning came, a cool 78 degrees for around two minutes, I was semi-rested from sleeping in a giant Arizona-sized oven and my top pillow was drenched.

I have been told that July and August resemble hell on earth and I must agree with that description after living in Vegas last year and seeing that Quartzsite is hotter than the casino town on a regular basis. Still what does not kill you, or dehydrate you, makes you stronger they say and after last night’s turbulent sleep I am not too tired this morning.

Unfortunately I will not be heading to town today as thunderstorms have been forecast and I do not want to cross the desert on a metal bike inviting lightning to strike me and my Schwinn. Of course there is the paranoia that my MacBookPro gets soaking wet thereby stopping my sporadic memoir writing and the chances of being paid by another content mill for journo pieces. I do have a waterproof bit of stuff that I wrap the thing in, but between the wind, rain and lightning, sitting today out seems wise.

It was interesting, and not a little disturbing, to see that the cloud cover kept the heat in over night. Generally on a clear day, besides being able to see “forever” the heat dissipates once the sun goes down. By half 11 or so the temperature has lowered enough to allow something resembling sleep. Even on the hottest clear day, the mornings are pleasantly cool.

Sitting here now, in the Arizona room, I can see the wind pick up. The sound of rain hitting the roof is slowly increasing in volume, not of a decibel level but amount, and the sky is becoming a more uniform color, grey without so much black mixed in. Rather interestingly there has been a lot of rain since my arrival.

Meanwhile, life in the real desert goes on and tonight I’ll wager that sleeping in a cloudy oven will not be an issue since the weather has driven the mercury down for the day. Looking at the forecast, the average temperature will be around 106 over the next week or so which means spending a lot of time in Burger King and the public library. An unexpected bonus of living in this environment is that I’ve met some lovely folks at the local eatery and managed to lose most of the tummy pod that I’ve carried with me for years.

9 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: The Sands are Alive (With the Sounds of Barking)

Schwinn 700C - my bike
After an eventful weekend of flat tyres on the bike, repeated attempts to fix this problem went badly and left me with a disposition best left alone, and weird dreams, it was time to take stock of the critters who have been scampering, scuttling, and gamboling across the desert floor. The sands are alive this time of year, it seems, with all sorts of little animals, and a lot of huge insects. The air is also alive with the sounds of barking, I’ll talk about this a bit as well and doves are not the peaceful creatures they seem to be. This will be sort of a pictorial, and I will apologize up front for the poor quality of my snaps.

I blame it on my poor iPhone, which to be fair has had some rough handling this year, two spills in the desert, one in a wash and the other on what seemed to be perfectly flat ground, a “hit and run” in Love’s car park and another impromptu flip when hitting the wrong brake at Burger King.

Quick quiz: What is the big difference between having a tumble in Love’s Truck Stop car park and Burger King’s car park? Answer: Burger King has employees who care! Two employees who did not know me that well, yet, came over and after checking I was okay, and that the bike was not damaged, went back to their personal conversation. Did I mention that they were on their break? Class act Burger King.

Not so my prospecting neighbor. He has come back in from searching for gold to bring eight dogs, one of which is a loud constantly barking Chihuahua that sets the rest of his pets off. The noisy little bugger should thank its annoying little stars that I do not own a gun, otherwise at five in the morning, he, or she would be eliminated with extreme prejudice. Sorry animal nuts lovers, no irritating creature is worthy of saving when it will not shut the f*** up.

I have only seen the dog once. It stood on the other side of our property fence and glared daggers at me while barking non-stop. The little sh*** never even stopped for air. My hands itched for an instrument of destruction but my more civilized instincts took over. Besides, it was not five in the morning.

One friend who lives three houses down mentioned the irritating mutt and told of how it came and barked at their entire garden party for a couple of hours. Just as it was mentioned that perhaps a marauding coyote might eat the little pest, it stopped yapping and moved on. I am currently on the look out for a coyote call on the internet…

Apart from obnoxious domestic dogs, I’ve discovered another type of dog; prairie dogs. What I had mistaken for a kangaroo rat was in fact a hole dweller. I did not realize my mistake until one stopped and reared up on its rear haunches, stretched its neck up and took a long careful look around before proceeding. I took the cute creature’s picture after it decided to hide out in a hollow spot on the hard pan floor and peek out:

Prairie dog in AZ
Camera shy…

When a camera is not immediately to hand, these small cute creatures scamper quickly across the eye line. They do pause to have a quick look about and then zoom on their merry way. These same animals were the bane of a cowboy’s existence back in the old days as many a horse stepped into a prairie dog hole with the end result being a broken leg and “old Paint” being put out of his misery with a well placed shot.

Other wild creatures include lizards, like this health conscious lizard filmed on the fence (this was before the little happy mutt moved in next door, hence the total silence except my commentary):

Another chap hangs around the side of the house and under the carport:

Lizard

A neighborhood visitor, a prairie gopher snake – now we know what those prairie dogs are scouting for – came by for a leisurely visit and despite not being bothered by all the attention at the time, has not yet been back:

Snake crossing the road, @4ft

Now about those doves…Certainly the air has been full of barking from the eight dogs, all ranging in size like the owner is paying a personal homage to the dogs in Second Hand Lions – sadly there is not pig or chicken hanging around for comic effect. The other noise, which permeates the early morning hours along with the woodpecker’s knocking on wood, tin, brick and anything else they can bash with their beaks, are the doves.

Sidenote: These woodpeckers are young ones, I think, and thus far they are uncanny at imitating the knocking noise associated with someone pounding on your front door. There is also a bird, a mockingbird perhaps, which does an insanely good job aping a cock crowing. Without the necessary power of a cockerel this feathered micmic sounds like it has laryngitis as it whispers, “cock-a-doodle-doo” a few times then stops. I am trying to get this on tape as it is priceless.

Doves, despite their calmly cooing on an afternoon, are the loudest creatures in the world come mating time. Squawking, flapping, fighting, mating, and otherwise making one hell of a row by smashing on the tin roof of my domestic dwelling, they are the loudest neighbors imaginable.

They also stomp. These birds are well known for making the least practicable nests possible in England and it seems their American cousins suffer the same inept home building skills. Building their temporary abode out of brittle sticks, they place them on air conditioning units and window ledges.

It seems that the brittle sticks are not to their liking so the feathered homemakers then stomp on the twigs presumably in an effort to soften them up. For such a “peaceful” bird, when stamping on the nests they could be wearing seven league boots, or at least heavy hobnailed boots. Plus, it has to be said, that for such pretty creatures, their offspring are, “Uuuugleeee!” See for yourself:

Baby Doves
To be honest they were a lot uglier a few weeks earlier…
Baby Doves
See? UUUGLEEEE! (Just sayin’.)

There are other creatures awaiting discovery via my iPhone 5. A red-tailed lizard, which was apparently quite a delicacy amongst the local Native American denizens, crawls into a crevice and inflates itself so it cannot be plucked out. One was glimpsed on a ride into town, although its tail was more orange than red and it was huge.

Of course there are other inhabitants in the real desert. Coyotes, one of which is so “domesticated” that according to another friendly neighbor, it comes and lies on top of the low fence for a nap, completely ignoring all the two-legged denizens who are walking around its sleeping form. Baby bunnies are all over the place, one in my garden has gotten so use to me that it no longer runs when I come out.

Deer, mountain lions, bobcats or wildcats all make this area home. I found a dead deer the other week and all that is left of that poor thing is one leg, a bit of vertebra and the odd rib bone. Tracks of a large mountain lion have been spied on my several jaunts across the desert floor and luckily I have yet to bump into this large predator.

One more desert resident can be seen constantly (usually searching or as in the case of the expired deer landing nearby) and this is the buzzard or vulture. Surely the ugliest creatures ever created; these can be seen soaring above the sands looking for carrion. They also sit in trees near a dead, or dying animal, waiting…

Buzzards...or vultures...

Single vulture
This chappy looks like a bit of CG but he is real…

The only creature I’ve not included in my little pictorial was that of the very aggressive rattlesnake I encountered on the way back from town. The snapshot taken of this angry chappy did not turn out too well as I opted to stay clear the other side of the road from him. This after coming within two scant inches of his slowly moving form. Slow, that is, till I turned round and took his picture, in my Twitter feed I named the creature Kanye West; who also hates having his picture taken by strangers…

20 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: Pilgrim’s Progress

Author photo March 2013
Finishing my first cup of tea and ruminating over the past few days events has left me with an epiphany of sorts. Let me explain: Back in 2012 while I was in Basildon Hospital, in the UK, and recovering from the dual surgery that saved my life, I got a visit from a lovely lady who worked in the medical facility. She warned me that one day, it would all sink in about how close to death I had been. “It is usual for survivors to experience crushing depression,” she said.

Well, it is now over two and a half years since that fateful day; where my universe shrank down to a tiny space of unbelievable pain, and that depression has still not made an appearance. Certainly I do feel down sometimes, these happen at the oddest times as well. Yesterday, for example, had this new desert dweller becoming the recipient of not one, but several acts of kindness. Yet when arriving back home, I was caught up in a blue funk that lasted till sleep.

Most of that was from being overly tired. My only mechanical mode of transport was out of commision for a few days, requiring a back inner tube, so it was two days of attempting to patch said tube and one day of angrily marching a total of 3.5 miles only to realize that by the time I got to the store it would be closed. It was then a much slower trip home as the anger was spent and I was tired, after all the wasted adrenaline drained away.

That walk, although not too hot according to the thermometer, beat the hell out of me and for the next two days I hurt everywhere. Lesson learned: Do not storm off on a moderately hot day in a foul mood.

This pilgrim’s progress has been slow and not just to adjusting to life in the desert here in the southwestern state of Arizona. The reason for this slow acclimation to things since that August day where I should have died not once, but twice, came to me this morning after an odd dream in the wee hours just as the sun was peeping over the mountains in the east.

Sleeping fitfully, I moved between dozing and wakefulness, I thought, all night. As the sky began to light up, I was laying on my left side, half-awake and grumpily cursing the doves and their annoying nest noises; they stomp on the brittle twigs making a sound like people walking on gravel which is very disconcerting when half-asleep.

As the birds settled down and began to make their cooing noises, I felt the cover beside me move. Four little feet made their way to my back and a small warm body then lay carefully next to my upper back. I could “feel” a bushy tail move up near my neck and could “smell” a fusty fur smell. I instantly relaxed, although in the back of my head was the awareness that there are no animals in the place, and felt totally at peace as sleep reclaimed me.

That this was a dream became apparent later when I had an amusing thought that I could well have a wild skunk lying right on top of me and I turned to see what was snuggled against me. I found a rag doll in the shape of pointy nose elf-like creature with a sewn on striped cone hat. We conversed, as one does, with no words but in our heads.

I did actually wake up at that point and found that I was alone and pondered the doll thing that my mind had dredged up. It made no sense, after all why would a two-legged doll walk on all fours to get across my cover. It was a surreal moment and the realization that it was so brought on my epiphany.

Speaking to someone a few days ago, I mentioned the forecast of massive depression from the medical lady in the hospital and said that I was still waiting for that shoe to drop. My “light-bulb” moment this morning was that this will not occur. What has happened instead is a constant state of surrealness, if you will.

I left Basildon Hospital (the cardiac section) four days after one of the most invasive surgeries one can endure, the first surgery should have been so routine that it was boring, and everything, it seems stems from that time. My second surgery took a long time, during which I was “technically dead.”

A machine kept my blood pumping and my lungs breathing while the doc’s stopped my heart to perform the aortic dissection and bypass, this after they whipped a vein out of my right leg, and the estimated time I was “dead” was around eight or more hours. Now, if you had asked me after I recovered from this procedure how long I was “out” or how long I was “dead” no answer would have been available. A lot of remembering had to happen before I could recall and this only happened after I asked my daughter, who had to live through all this.

The point being that from the moment I was moved from ICU to the recovery ward, everything has seemed surreal. You could even argue that my waking up during the first surgery, when they discovered that my aortic arch had been perforated and most of my aorta was split open, and managing to talk around the tube in my throat started the whole thing. This also is the reason, I believe, for the “gravel” in my voice since the surgery.

Sidenote: To the family who were staying in Basildon Hospital with their own medical emergency, “Thank you for the kindness you showed my child who had to deal with all this on her own.”

The epiphany this morning has been that I have never really gotten over the surreal stage of this whole heart attack malarkey. My brain seems to be operating in a sort of fugue state of semi-awareness with small moments of clarity. At times I can almost react to things normally but there is still that feeling of unreality flitting around the edges.

I find myself unable to function properly in social settings. The actor in me puts on a good show, but basic things like exchanging phone numbers while interacting with another person who has just asked for mine go by the wayside. Just trying to remember to thank someone for a good deed or act of kindness is also fraught with inactivity or at least poor responses.

Anyone who has known me well can tell you that I have a radar that can tell when a person is on the level or not to be trusted almost seconds after meeting them. That ability seems to have been left on the operating table along with some of my common sense. How else can I explain being taken in by a con artist so completely that I moved in with the bugger, and his wife, and only woke up after it seemed I was about to be made a patsy? (And upon learning that he was a “wanted” felon.)

There are a long list of things that all point to my mind still existing in this surreal state. A place where my subconscious is attempting to get round surviving back in 2012 and despite my resolute marching forward to this new beat of the drum, I am struggling. Not desperately, but just enough that my thinking is affected.

Everything happens for a reason. I firmly believe this, just as I believe that my “pilgrim’s progress” here in the desert is needed at the point in time. A step back from busy society and a chance for me to get my soldiers back in step. This quiet time is needed to help me get back on an even keel, or at least recognize that moving back to the foreign country I left so long ago is either my new “normality” or just another turn of the screw in my current directionless journey.

Time will tell and at least now I can realize where my “head is at.” Even if it took a two-legged dream doll to point me in the right direction.

19 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Loud and Clear: Lake Headley & William Hoffman – True Crime With an Aftertaste

Press photo of Bolles Car after explosion
Loud and Clear is the recounting of a search for the truth behind the Don Bolles murder in 1976. The investigative reporter, who specialized in ruffling feathers of organized crime was blown up in his car while at the, then, Hotel Clarendon in Phoenix. The reporter was there to meet with an informant who never showed. The blast from the bomb did not kill Bolles immediately and in the parking lot he named his killer and the organization’s behind it, John Adamson, Emprise and the mafia.

Written by Lake Headley with William Hoffman, the book tells about Headley; who was a private investigator, taking on an assignment from a support group who believed that the convicted Phoenix contractor Max Dunlop was innocent. Included in this was James Robison a plumber who was also convicted of the bombing. The reader is taken through the paces that Headley followed to find the truth.

Finding this book on the non-fiction aisle in the local library intermingled with Pat Garrett’s The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, The Frontier World of Doc Holliday and Last Rampage meant that it obviously had to do with the Southwest. Anyone who reads the book will find a fascinating and disturbing look at the American justice system back in the 1970s and through the 1980s.

Reading about the p.i. and his search for information on who really killed the reporter is an eye opening experience. While the conclusion of the book had Dunlop out of prison and Headley, along his new girlfriend, recovering from an attempt to destroy evidence kept in their apartment that almost killed the couple, the ending of this “miscarriage” of justice was far from over.

Investigative reporter Don Devereux who was almost run down by a pickup truck early in his part of Headley’s investigation, still writes about the crime and the coverup run by police and local government officials in the state of Arizona. Once the book is finished, head over to the Internet and type in Max Dunlop and James Robison into the search bar to see the end of the story.

Or, conversely just type in Devereux’s name and this will lead you over to his blog.

Both men were railroaded by what can only be described as high-level kangaroo court where they were guilty because the prosecution wanted them to be. The book, Loud and Clear points out repeatedly that the only motive that the state wanted to pursue was the one that made the least sense. It was also the one which allowed known shady dealers and crime figures in the world of gambling to get off scot free. Not to mention a big political name who was already infamous for exploiting Native Americans.

Perhaps none of this is too surprising when one considers that Phoenix has been the haven of retired mafia figures for years as well as a stomping ground non-retired gangsters who have utilized the area for a number of reasons. If not surprising, it is at the very least terrifying to see how a few dedicated men whose pay packets obviously do not come from just the American taxpayers dollars, can usurp the legal system to allow killers to go free.

The late Lake Headley (he died in 1993) and William Hoffman present a clear case of purposeful misdirection and destruction of evidence by the people who are sworn to protect the innocent. While the book itself ends on a somewhat positive note, it was published in 1990, it is the later epilogue of event that chill.

Loud and Clear makes it seem quite dangerous to live in Arizona and reminds the reader to be very careful who they list among their friends if they do live in the “mafia” state. A real five star book for true crime readers who don’t mind that the story was not over when it was published.

Life in the Real Desert: A Typical Day

Rattlesnake on Dome Road, AZ
Yesterday in the “real” desert there was a thunderstorm that literally lasted most of the day and all night. While Skype messaging my daughter in the UK, (We had to IM versus talk as the signal is so sporadic that real conversations consist of, “Can you hear me? Are you there? You’re frozen. You’re frozen again. Am I frozen?”) I remarked that I meant to bike into town but looking at the ominous clouds and lightning it seemed a good idea to pass on the visit. Not long after, we ended the “call” and I went out to video the ominous looking clouds.

Doing my impression of a “storm chaser” on foot, I walked down the street outside the house filming sporadically. After a short period of “Oh there’s a great bit of lightning! Sh**, I missed it,” I gave up the roaming reporter rubbish and wandered back to my front garden and opted to just watch and occasionally film things that caught my eye.

Real storm chasers and those who document their exploits can rest easy in the knowledge that I am not a threat to their livelihood. My talents do not obviously lay in that area. Of course the storm threatened to break out all day and only really got interesting after dark. Once the sun went down all hell broke loose and rain came down in sheets of frenzied water that thrashed the trees almost as much as the gusts of wind.

The ferocity of the rain was such that the weather-proofing I had done weeks before was inadequate to keep the water from forcing its way into the trailer. Three leaks appeared but only after the pounding rain swept through on the third wave. The storm blew the rain in and out three times, at least that was what I counted before falling asleep waiting for the next onslaught of weather, and it was this last time that the leaks made themselves known.

Before making my nightly visit to the Land of Nod, I put out a pot for the worst leak and thankfully the other two watery intrusions were not enough to warrant pots or pans.

The sun came out upon a typical day of sun, sand and critters roaming throughout the neighborhood. Woodpeckers and some sort of yellow and black bird busily stealing the hummingbird’s nectar (with me busily chasing them off, call me cruel but they knock the feeder all over the place and get nectar everywhere) and lizards exercising along the surrounding property wall.

While the entertainment value of the pushup performing lizard does not match the heart pounding excitement of the rattlesnake encountered over the weekend or the sounds and the fury of last night’s storm, it is enough to keep me amused and content. All that remains is to see what tomorrow will bring.

5 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

The Last Camel Charge: The Untold Story of America’s Desert Military Experiment by Forrest Bryant Johnson

Book cover of The Last Camel Charge
The Last Camel Charge: The Untold Story of America’s Desert Military Experiment by Forrest Bryant Johnson is a splendid recounting of the Army’s attempt to adapt dromedaries to the American desert. Johnson also features the events of the times, the Civil War, the Mormon War, the Indian Wars and the political upheaval as the young country moved resolutely westward in search of land and gold.

The author of Phantom Warrior follows the trail of the men who went to Europe in search of camels to test their suitability for the Southwest desert region. This forgotten piece of history is brought to life by Johnson’s attention to detail and his adept skill at bringing these historical characters to life.

In this narrative, readers see just how much disdain the older countries felt for the young upstart U.S.A. From the first shipment of “old diseased” creatures to the final receipt of camels which were hale, hardy and ready for the long journey to the American Southwest, Johnson reveals the personalities and men behind this little known experiment. Following the journey, The Last Camel Charge does not rely upon the “Journal of May Humphreys Stacey” as one would expect. It does deviate from existing reports and follows Lt. Beale’s trail blazing and his attachment to these foreign creatures.

Picture of camels being transported in Turkey
Camels being moved in Turkey. Photo from Fort Tejon Historical website.

Beale was not alone in his love affair with the two types of camels brought over for the Army’s use. Seemingly just about everyone who had any dealings with these creatures became lifelong fans. Even, Beale’s friend and “business” partner Samuel Bishop who lodged camels at his ranch and later, when the Army wanted the creatures back, was very reluctant to release their treasured charges. Bishop was a fan of the animals and it is he who rode the beasts, along with a few others, to attack the Mojave that were induced to misbehave in a horrific fashion against the non-Mormon settlers who were entering the area.

The book details the beginnings of the Civil War, which would ultimately cause the camel experiment to lose support, as well as the “Mormon” war. The Native American tribes of the area are also looked at as well as their affiliation with other tribes, the Mormons, new settlers, Beale, and the Army.

This is a fascinating look at all the players in the experiment, including a pretty in depth look at “Hi Jolly” whose immigration to America as a Camel Drover led to his working in many different trades and becoming a “local” legend in Arizona. The Last Camel Charge is a well researched and well written recounting of a time when the US was facing problems on all sides.

On top of the battles of “brother against brother” there were the “savages” who stood in the way of gold prospecting, settlers and expansion of young America’s “manifest destiny.” Mormon’s were another issue and the horrific massacre of innocents by this “new” religion caused an outcry to equal the Native American concern.

Published this year, the book is a fascinating read and one that any western history buff will find interesting and entertaining. A real 5 star effort from Forrest Bryant Johnson.

Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison by James W. Clarke – Death on the Road

Cover of book by James W. ClarkeQuartzsite is not just the burial place of a historical figure, Hi Jolly lays at rest there with a favorite camel to keep him company in the “Hereafter,” it is also a spot where Snowbirds flock every winter to keep warm while the rest of the country shivers in the blustery cold. This small quiet burg also has a horrific dark side. In 1978 Gary Tison, escaped from an Arizona prison and his route of meandering escape, that ran over three states, took him right through Hi Jolly territory.

Living up to his reputation as being a cold-blooded killer, Tison’s trip through the quiet Arizona town was marked with murder. In James W. Clarke’s book “Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison (Houghton Mifflin Company 1988) the second chapter of the book is devoted to the Lyon’s family murders. This wholesale slaughter took place just outside Quartzsite off I 95 on the Yuma side of town.

After Tison Sr. and Randy Greenawalt shotgunned the 24 year-old Marine Sergeant John Lyons, his wife Donnelda and their son Christopher to death, along with John’s niece Teresa Tyson, who died after the attack from her injuries, they took the family’s car and continued their wandering path to Mexico.

James W. Clark writes about the escape and his novel follows the journey and interactions of this small group of men. The author reveals that he and his young family were very near the fugitives as they fled authorities. In Colorado where Tison and his group murdered a honeymooning couple for their van, the writer and his wife spent a sleepless night. They were convinced that some unspeakable evil was watching their temporary campsite and only later did they learn that Gary Tison, Randy Greenawalt and Tison’s three sons were literally yards away.

Clarke does a good job documenting the flight of Tison and co. He lists all the various players and does a good job with backstory on each. He also remembers to pay attention to the victims of Tison and Greenawalt. At no time does the author forget to show the cost to surviving family members of the blood-soaked journey of the fugitives.

The book also looks at the power Tison had over his family and others who came into contact with him. A picture is drawn of a charismatic and manipulative man who appears to be pure evil. Tison’s end, dying of dehydration and exposure in the Arizona desert yards away from water, is one of poetic justice and not for the faint hearted. The man suffered an incredibly painful death and one that many would feel is still inadequate for the crimes he committed.

While telling Tison’s story, Clarke also reveals the corruption that was prevalent in 1970s Arizona penal system. He touches briefly the Don Bolles murder and the connection with Tison.  While the newsman’s death was the direct result of his investigating the mafia, the corruption pointed out by Clarke had to do with the correction system and its apparent policy of hiring inept individuals to run their prisons.

Consider this: The governor of the prison where Tison escaped was given multiple warnings that Tison was planning to illegally leave the institution and did nothing.  It is amazing that the Lyons’ and Judge’s families did not take the man to court as being an accessory to the murders committed by the fleeing criminals.

This is a chilling and disturbing account of one of the most horrific murders committed in the Southwestern desert. Prepare to be upset and frightened. In a short “review” of the book, I mentioned that reading this would reveal monsters scarier than anything made-up. Gary Tison, and his accomplice Randy Greenawalt, are terrifying.

James W. Clarke has written a book that should be read in the daylight while surrounded by others. Avoid reading at night, in the desert, alone. This true tale, despite the criminals being gone now, proves that truth is stranger than fiction and much more disturbing. Just as disturbing  perhaps as the made for TV film in 1983 starring Robert Mitchum and James Spader which purports to tell the story of Tison and his sons, Killer in the Family. A movie that one can be forgiven for missing considering the real facts of Tison and his bid for freedom.