Dirk Johnson

Stories by Dirk Johnson

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    Why Bill Ayers Was Denied Prof. Emeritus Status

    When Bill Ayers authored "Prairie Fire" in 1974, the self-proclaimed “revolutionary” and “anti-imperialist” book included a page with the words “To All Who Continue to Fight” and “To All Political Prisoners in the U.S.” Sirhan Sirhan was among those listed.
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    Hometown Hero

    President Obama may be getting a cold shoulder from some Democratic candidates lately, but he remains a powerful asset in his old stomping ground in Illinois.
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    Can Rahm Emanuel Win the Chicago Mayor's Race?

    It seems likely that President Obama's powerful chief of staff will run for mayor of Chicago. But money, national name recognition—even an endorsement from his boss—may not be enough to deliver a victory in this town.
  • MARRIED TO A MONSTER

    From his jail in Wichita, Dennis Rader, the sadistic serial killer who called himself BTK--short for his method: bind, torture, kill--phoned a local television station and talked about his wife, Paula, and their grown children, Kerri and Brian. "Paula has opened up a little bit more," he told station KSNW. "She's writing a little bit more. Kids are hit-and-miss, you know, they're busy." Four days after the call, Rader pleaded guilty in Sedgwick County Court to the 10 slayings, recounting the murders in gruesome detail.It is unclear if Rader, 60, entered the guilty plea to spare his family further agony and humiliation, or if he simply saw no point in a trial. The Rev. Michael Clark, the pastor of the Lutheran church where Rader had been the congregation president and Paula, 57, had sung in the choir, said that the killer's wife had sent a letter to her husband. But he did not disclose the contents. "Right now, Paula has to take care of herself in the best way she can," Pastor Clark...
  • BRING IT ON--TASTEFULLY

    A Texas lawmaker is trying to put a stop to scantily clad high-school cheerleaders' prancing like Vegas showgirls. Lamenting "the way they're shaking their behinds," state Rep. Al Edwards has sponsored a measure banning "overtly sexually suggestive" routines by cheerleading and pompom squads. The bill, which passed the Texas House last week, won praise from conservatives, but was denounced by the American Civil Liberties Union and the state's cheerleading association.
  • TRAPPED BY A KILLER FOR 10 YEARS

    For a decade, the disappearance of Bobbi Parker remained a mystery. Was she abducted and being held hostage by Randolph Dial, a murderer who had escaped from an Oklahoma prison? Or was Parker, the wife of the deputy warden, living with him on the lam willingly? Police caught up with the two last week in deepest southeast Texas, where the pair had been living and working on a chicken ranch--and posing as Richard and Samantha Deahl. Authorities arrested 60-year-old Dial--an accomplished artist and sculptor, in addition to being a murderer--and believe that he had taken Parker, now 42, at knife point and held her with threats. In a jailhouse interview, Dial himself said he'd warned Parker that if she tried to escape, he would harm her family. "I was a hostage taker and will probably live to regret it," he said. "But now I don't. Doing a life sentence, at my age, I wouldn't trade it."Those who saw Parker in Texas knew something was wrong. "I saw her slapped and beaten," said Debra Grace...
  • TEXAS, FOOTBALL AND JUICE

    These were not standard cheers and jeers for a suburban Dallas high-school basketball game. Fans from Plano East on Friday night screamed at the rival Colleyville Heritage team in a local tournament: "Steroids! Steroids!" Some students held aloft a sign scribbled with the words GOT 'ROIDS? EAST DON'T. A scuffle erupted after the game, and a Plano East student was taken by ambulance to a local hospital.In the warrior world of Texas high-school sports, tensions have become razor-sharp at Heritage High as a football steroid scandal has broken wide open. Nine unnamed Heritage students, most of them football players, have admitted to injecting the muscle-building drug in the past year. Police, meanwhile, are reportedly hunting for a "juice" peddler known as "Big Mike," thought to come from the affluent suburb of Southlake. Now Heritage coaches and administrators are scrambling to defend themselves against charges they ignored warnings from a parent. And some players are quietly pointing...
  • 'WHO'S BABYSITTING THE KIDS?'

    Andrea Yates, serving a life sentence for drowning her five children--ages 6 months to 7 years--mostly stares out the window of her cell these days. But it's unclear what she sees. During a recent visit from her mother, the 40-year-old asked plaintively, "Who's babysitting the kids?" She's a lost woman, says Wendell Odom, part of her legal team, who recounted the visit. A jury in 2002 decided she was sane enough to know right from wrong, and sent her to prison instead of a hospital. But a Texas appeals court last week ruled that Yates should get a new trial.It turns out the only psychiatrist who claimed in court that she was sane, Dr. Park Dietz, had made a serious misstatement during the trial. He testified that he consulted on a "Law & Order" episode about a woman with postpartum depression who drowned her children and was found to be insane by a court. In fact, no such program was ever produced. Nonetheless, prosecutors implied that Yates watched the show and patterned the...
  • AT HOME IN TWO WORLDS

    The other kids in grade school talked about family life. Camping trips with Dad, hanging out with Mom at the mall. Kyle Michaels kept quiet. Nobody would understand. Not in her Texas suburb of Cedar Park. You talked about cool clothes, hip bands and cute boys. You cheered for the football team on Friday nights and you went to church on Sunday. "If you go around our neighborhood," she says, "everybody has a sign that says, 'We support God and our troops." If you didn't hew to traditional values, it seemed to her, you kept quiet. Cedar Park was certainly not a place, she felt certain, where you talked about your mom's being a lesbian.Now a high-school freshman, Kyle no longer keeps secrets about life inside her two-story red-brick home. "I'm a lot more confident," says the 14-year-old. "I don't really care what people think about my family anymore." The turning point came three summers ago, when Kyle went to a camp for children of gays and lesbians in Provincetown, Mass. There kids...
  • BATTLING THE THIN ENVELOPE

    A thin envelope does not always mean rejection; early applicants may be deferred to regular decision, and regular applicants may be wait-listed. Students might see either status as purgatory, unsure whether to hope or grieve. Choose hope. By taking action, admissions deans say, you can increase your chances of getting in. That rule also applies to students who don't get in anywhere. The bottom line: never give up.Students who are deferred from Early Action or Early Decision should make sure colleges receive their fall grades and should write a letter to the admissions dean, reaffirming their interest and updating their achievements. The University of Chicago's Ted O'Neill encourages applicants to schedule an interview if they haven't had one. But most deans agree that additional materials (tapes, essays, recommendations) can help only if they offer something new.Wait-listed students should send in their spring grades and write the same kind of letter as deferred students. But this...
  • THE SMELL OF SUCCESS

    It started as a joyous Easter egg hunt on the Nebraska prairie. But when the winds shifted, it stunk so badly of hog manure the kids ran indoors. "Oh Grandma," one of the little girls cried to Kathleen Stephens, 68, "it's terrible!" The awful stench comes from some 20,000 pigs being raised a mile or so from the Stephens farm. Hiding from the odors, Kathleen and Earl Stephens, 72, mostly stay cooped up inside their old white farmstead. "We really are prisoners in our house," says Kathleen. "Your eyes water. It's unbearable. There's days it'll make you gag."Sick of the stink, the Stephenses joined 10 other neighbors and took the hog producer to court, suing for a loss of quality of life. A Nebraska appeals court has sided with them, ruling late last month that the hog producer, Progressive Swine Technologies, must compensate its neighbors for living with the noxious fumes. It was left to a state court to determine the damages. The state of Iowa has also delivered a blow to the...
  • SEX, LOVE AND NURSING HOMES

    At 86, William Depippa is one hip dude. Sporting an earring and suspenders, he sparked the interest of Rosemary Gould, 62, a kindly grandmother who lived down the hall at the Barn Hill Care Center in Newton, N.J. In a six-month courtship--much of it spent on the porch talking bingo and gardening--they fell in love. "Nobody bothered," says Rosemary, who has diabetes and congestive heart failure, "to come see what we were doing." A week or so before marrying in September, they moved into the same room at the home, pushing the beds together. If they wish to be undisturbed, she says simply, "We keep our door closed."Not so long ago, the desires of senior lovebirds would make care administrators blanch, says Barbara Cox, who runs Barn Hill. But now homes for the aging are facing the facts of life: the fires of romance still burn at twilight. With people living longer and healthier--not to mention popping Viagra--there's more on the minds of some nursing-home residents than just the next...
  • Sex, Love And Nursing Homes

    At 86, William DePippa is one hip dude. Sporting an earring and suspenders, he sparked the interest of Rosemary Gould, 62, a kindly grandmother who lived down the hall at the Barn Hill Care Center in Newton, N.J. In a six-month courtship--much of it spent on the porch talking bingo and gardening--they fell in love. "Nobody bothered," says Rosemary, who has diabetes and congestive heart failure, "to come see what we were doing." A week or so before marrying in September, they moved into the same room at the home, pushing the beds together. If they wish to be undisturbed, she says simply, "We keep our door closed."Not so long ago, the desires of senior lovebirds would make care administrators blanch, says Barbara Cox, who runs Barn Hill. But now homes for the aging are facing the facts of life: the fires of romance still burn at twilight. With people living longer and healthier--not to mention popping Viagra--there's more on the minds of some nursing-home residents than just the next...
  • An Anxious Search On The Plains

    Dru Sjodin turns heads. The 22-year-old University of North Dakota senior with blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes--the homecoming queen in high school, as well as an honor student--was strolling through the Columbia Mall parking lot on the afternoon of Nov. 22. Finished with her shift at Victoria's Secret, she was chatting with her boyfriend on a cell phone. Suddenly, her tone changed: "Oh, my God!" she exclaimed. And then--nothing. Sjodin seemed to vanish.For more than two weeks now, nobody has seen or heard from Sjodin. Police fear she caught the eye that afternoon of Alfonso Rodriguez, 50, a convicted rapist with a violent history. Rodriguez has been arrested and charged with kidnapping Sjodin. There is still no trace of her. The search continues to find her, but hopes now battle against the grim odds.Some 1,700 searchers--including Sjodin's cousins from across the nation--have scoured riverbanks, ditches, ravines and grasslands in the flat, treeless prairie of the Upper Midwest...
  • Case Of The Missing Head

    On the streets of Galveston, the mysterious drifter--seemingly a mute woman--was known as Dorothy Ciner. But under the ill-fitting wig, in reality, was Robert Durst, a fabulously rich New York real-estate heir, living on the lam. Renting a $300-a-month apartment on Avenue K, Durst became pals with a neighbor across the hall, Morris Black, a peppery old seaman. Then came a bitter falling-out. In the fall of 2001, the dissected remains of Black, 71, were discovered by a boy fishing in Galveston Bay. Charged with murder, Durst acknowledged chopping Black's body into pieces, a chore he said left him "swimming in blood." But he claimed the killing was accidental, telling jurors Black had brandished a gun in a quarrel at Durst's place; the two men struggled and the gun fired, killing Black. Durst carved up the body with a bow saw, he explained, because he was in a panic--and fogged by drinking a fifth of Southern Comfort and smoking pot. To prosecutors, it seemed a farfetched explanation....
  • Gays in Church and State

    The Episcopal Church names its first openly gay bishop as a Massachusetts court considers legalizing same-sex marriage
  • THE BEST OF FRIENDS

    Big dudes on campus, Patrick Dennehy and Carlton Dotson didn't hang much with the other basketball players at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Usually, it was just the two of them. "They were always together," says LaDonna Nelson, a Baylor student and neighbor. "If one was going to eat, the other one was, too." On Memorial Day, they celebrated Dotson's birthday by staying home and grilling steaks. Nelson once asked them why they didn't socialize with the other players. "This is the person I trust the most," Dotson told her. "This is the person who has my back." Dennehy agreed. "We're tight. He's like a brother to me."But they showed some weird behavior at times. They bought three pit bulls for their little apartment. And they bought guns--opening the door only when armed. Relatives and friends said they seemed paranoid. Dotson spoke to his estranged wife of getting phone calls and hearing someone cock a gun, sometimes even fire it. Then around June 12, Dennehy vanished. Two weeks...
  • SPECIALS!

    Schools offer goodies to lure students. Need cable?
  • A Killer's Deadly Aim

    It's small, but lightning fast, coming out of the cannon at 3,000 feet per second. It's available at any neighborhood ammo store, but it's the preferred ordnance of Army riflemen and Olympic sharpshooters. And when it's in the wrong hands, the .223-caliber bullet can be a perfect killing machine, ripping holes the size of coffee cups. In Washington, D.C., and its suburbs, the shots were almost surely fired by an expert, as if picking off clay pigeons a single round at a time. But this was no game. Six people in the Washington area were shot dead--gunfire that seemed to come out of nowhere--a spree so random and terrifying that some people have refused to step outside their doors.On the loose was a killer with a deadly eye and a powerful weapon. The shots have been fired from such long range--as far away as six football fields, police say--that there have been no eyewitnesses. And the aim has been near perfect. This is a "very skilled" marksman, says Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and...
  • From Taco Bell To Al Qaeda

    Jose Padilla, a.k.a. Abdullah al-Muhajir, wasn't one of those quiet, sweet kids the neighbors just can't believe got into trouble with the law. Growing up on Chicago's tough West Side in the late '70s and early '80s, young Jose was a known street thug and Latin Disciples gangbanger with an expanding rap sheet. At 15, Padilla and a running buddy mugged a man in the street, taking his money and watch. When the guy tried to chase them down, Padilla's partner stabbed him in the stomach. As he lay bleeding, Padilla kicked him hard in the head, he later told police, because he "felt like it." The victim died. Padilla did a stint in juvenile hall.It's a long way from "juvey" to the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., where Padilla, now 31, is being held as an enemy combatant for his alleged role in a Qaeda dirty-bomb plot. Investigators are still trying to figure out why the Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican Roman Catholic wound up converting to radical Islam and joining ranks with Osama bin La-den in...

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