By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
It seems like the only time you hear the words Internet and crime together is when the media flogs a scare story about some hacker who claims to have downloaded Colin Powell's cholesterol count from the Pentagon. But the Web intersects crime in a number of important ways, from the obvious, such as news and law enforcement sites, to the unusual: clue-gathering sites for unsolved crimes, sex offender registries, criminals' own pages, and even streaming audio of police scanners in major cities.
The little-known story behind Crime Magazine (www.crimemagazine.com) is almost as interesting as the site itself. The publication was founded in October 1998 by the late investigative reporter J.J. Maloney. You want street credibility? Maloney spent 13 years in the joint for a murder and armed robbery he committed when he was 19. While Maloney was behind bars, he taught himself to write and landed a gig doing book reviews for the Kansas City Star, which hired him the day after he made parole in 1972. Maloney went on to expose Mob activities and break the Freeway Killer story, while earning a Brinks truckload of awards and nominations (he was up for the Pulitzer five times).
Maloney's ambitious vision for Crime Magazinewas to cover wrongdoing from all anglescurrent and historical, official corruption and organized crime, assassins and serial killers, justice issues and pop culture. He and a host of other distinguished crime reporters and researchers offer up tough-as-nails writing on James Earl Ray, JonBenet Ramsey, the death of original Superman George Reeves, America's first serial killers, J. Edgar Hoover's probable blackmailing of a Supreme Court justice, and the alarming murder rate of night clerks at convenience stores (the second most dangerous job in America, behind police officer). The grisly photos of lynchings and of the bloody 1999 execution of Allen Lee Davis are blunt reminders of the violence done by mobs and the state. Unfortunately, Maloney's efforts were cut short by his death from pneumonia on the last day of 1999, but the helm has been taken by a former bureau manager for United Press International.
AmericanMafia.com (www.americanmafia.com) is by far the best source for information about organized crime. The site focuses on the current doings of La Cosa Nostra, although it has material on other organizations, including biker gangs and the Russian Mafia. Be sure to check out the Mafia photo album, and find out which crime family controlled each of 26 major U.S. citiesand which are still operating.
The Web contains a lot of sites devoted to serial killers, but ZodiacKiller.com (www.zodiackiller.com) is the cream of the crop. Tom Voigt hasn't limited his constant, tenacious research just to poring over everything that's ever been written about this unsolved mysteryhe has also visited every crime scene and interviewed over 100 people involved in the case, including witnesses, suspects, and victims' families. The result is a well-designed, popular site (125,000 hits per month) containing scads of exclusive info, including reproductions of Zodiac letters never seen by the public until now. If the Zodiac Killer is still alive, he must be sweating bullets.
Access Manson (www.atwa.com) is as close as we're likely to get to an official site for Charlie. There's loads of info here, all of it sympathetic and of the opinion that Manson was railroaded by the system. Small wonder, since the FAQ notes that "Access Manson is run by friends and supporters of Charles Manson. The webmaster, St. George, has been designated by Manson as his Minister of Information." The copyright notice at the bottom of each page names Sandra Good, one of the most prominent members of Manson's "Family." In an interview with Disinformation.com, the webmaster has said Manson has direct influence over this site.
MaryKayLetourneau.com (www.marykayletourneau.com) is the official site for Mary Kay Letourneau, the Seattle-area teacher currently in the clink for her infamous sexual relationship with a sixth-grade student. The site is a bit light on hard data, but it does give a glimpse of Letourneau's side of the story. "If this law was meant to apply equally to both males and females," she writes, "then why have some men in this state (who were with teenage girls of the same age as Vili was when we were first together) been given charges of a nonviolent classified sex offense (a ONE and a half year prison sentence), and for the same situation, I was charged with a VIOLENT classified sex offense that equals to a SEVEN and a half year prison sentence?"
If the new TV drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has you thinking about a career in forensics, Evidence: The True Witness (library.thinkquest.org/17049) will get you started. If you just can't wait to get cracking on cases, you can always go to Crime Scene Evidence Files (www.crimescene.com), home of a game in which participants help solve a fictional crime. Then check out Unsolved Crimes (www.unsolvedcrimes.com) and Unloved Crimes (www.unlovedcrimes.com) to review evidence in murder cases that have gone cold. At Reward-Offer.com (www.reward-offer.com), you can send in tips on unsolved crimes that have juicy rewards attached, including a cool million offered by an oil heiress for the return of her jewelry.
The Yahoo of lawlessness, Crime Spider (www.crimespider.com) covers everything from forensics and international law enforcement agencies to domestic abuse and mass murderers. In a similar vein, Crime/Punishment at About.com (crime.about.com) corrals original articles and Net resources, including breaking news. It earns special kudos for its constant updating of crucial cases, such as the trial of ex-SLA member Sara Jane Olson.
Lest we forget, crime isn't committed only by violent individuals and gangs. For government crimes against citizens, Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org) can't be beat. Corporate Watch (www.corpwatch.org) and Infact (www.infact.org) keep an eye on crimes and other abuses committed by big corporations. Some of the worst lawbreakers are the generally nonviolent people in suits; with its information on white-collar crime, the Fraud Defense Network (www.frauddefense.com) has the dirty goods on everyone from prescription forgers and insurance scammers to tax evaders.