St. Louis Room Escape Taps Overseas Demand for Brain-Bending Puzzle Designs

Categories: News

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Danny Wicentowski
Enigma Productions' Nir Chezrony displays an unfinished (and giant) cryptex.
There's a lot of work that goes into trapping ten people in a room for an hour.

Much of that work happens in a suburban garage, where Nir Chezrony, the brains behind Enigma Productions, hefts a four-foot-long pole that's been threaded through ten wooden dials -- once complete, these will serve as tumblers for a supersized cryptex.

"We are building, essentially, a giant combination lock," Chezrony says, describing what he calls the "master piece" of Trapped: A St. Louis Room Escape Volume 4, which will run May 27 to June 7.

For more than a year, Chezrony, an engineer, and his partners -- two fellow engineers and a high school English teacher -- have enjoyed notoriety as St. Louis' only room escape operation. To date, more than 600 people have tried tackling Chezrony's devious mind traps, aiming to escape a locked room before the time limit expires. That number is set to grow significantly with Enigma Productions' latest venture: selling custom escape room designs at thousands of dollars a pop.

"I've had people contact me from around the world," Chezrony says. "Australia, British Columbia, England, Spain, Egypt, Greece. What we're finding is no else has these kinds elements that we're doing."

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ACLU Sues City of Pine Lawn for Police Corruption and Harassment

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Jessica Lussenhop
ACLU's executive director Jeffrey Mittman and former Pine Lawn mayor Adrian Wright.

At a press conference this morning, former Pine Lawn mayor Adrian Wright announced that he is suing the city, disgraced former mayor Sylvester Caldwell, and former Pine Lawn police officer Jarred Anderson for using the city's police force to intimidate and embarrass him for political gain. The ACLU of Missouri is representing Wright, with help from the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP.

Wright was mayor of Pine Lawn until 2005, and has been a vocal critic of Caldwell for many years. Caldwell resigned in April after pleading guilty to extortion for demanding bribes in exchange for city contracts.

"I think you'll be shocked to find out what happened to Mr. Wright," said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri.

What happened in Wright's case is indicative of the habitual abuse of power by police in Pine Lawn, much of it at the behest of Caldwell, Mittman said.

"Ferguson and Pine Lawn are not alone," Mittman said. "We will be providing the proof."

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The Perfect Road Trip Must Pass Through St. Louis, Scientist Says

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Photo by Lyle Whitworth
A "perfect road trip" that skips St. Louis? It's positively un-American.
You probably saw some variation of the map that made its way across Facebook in recent weeks: Someone claimed to have come up with a road trip that hit "all the major landmarks." Sharing commenced!

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The map that had social media buzzing.
Sure enough, the map showed a trek from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, hitting points like Chicago and Minneapolis and San Antonio along the way.

But it didn't just miss New England. It also missed the middle of the country -- Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia and Kansas went completely untouched.

And, yes, it missed St. Louis!

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FBI Scientists Gave Flawed Testimony About Hair Evidence in Missouri Death Penalty Case

Categories: Death Penalty

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Ken Piorkowski

On Saturday, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice made a stunning admission: A team of their scientists had used flawed science for years, then testified against defendants in hundreds of criminal trials using their erroneous conclusions. The FBI found that 26 of its 28 examiners in the "microscopic hair analysis unit" gave overstated testimony in 268 trial cases, and that 96 percent of the time that testimony favored the prosecution. The cases took place between 1972 and 1999.

The defendants in 32 of the cases received a death sentence. Of those, 12 have already been executed. One of those took place in Missouri.

The FBI is still completing its review, but Tricia Bushnell, legal director of the Midwest Innocence Project, says the bad science the FBI used for decades has likely trickled down into Missouri's local forensic labs.

"State analysts are doing what the FBI taught them to do, and so we'll have to review those cases as well," she says. "Our regional crime labs went to these trainings taught by the FBI."

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Michael Brown Memorial Tree One of Two Destroyed in Ferguson

Categories: Crime, Ferguson

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Tony Rice aka @search4swag
The damaged Michael Brown memorial tree and the hole where a plaque once sat.
UPDATE: We've updated this story to include comments from a member of the Black Caucus' executive committee. See our update at the bottom of the post.

Original story follows....

On Saturday, the Black Caucus of the American Library Association dedicated a memorial in January-Wabash Park in Ferguson honoring Michael Brown.

By Sunday, the memorial had already been destroyed -- the tree planted in Brown's honor damaged, and the stone memorial missing, KMOV (CHannel 4) reports.

As it turns out, however, two trees at the January-Wabash Park were damaged this weekend, and now two plaques are missing, says activist Tony Rice, who visited the site this morning. The tree featured in the KMOV report that was completely destroyed was dedicated to someone else -- the Michael Brown tree was damaged but still has some leafy green leaves on top.

However, both trees are missing their plaques. Brown's had said simply, "In Memory of Michael Brown Jr. Dedicated tree 4/15."

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Remembering Carrie Bash: A Husband's Fight to Keep His Wife's Legacy Alive

Categories: Obituaries

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Jessica Lussenhop
Harry Bash with a photo of his late wife, Carrie.

Harry and Carrie Bash's romance was not an easy one. At the time, interracial marriage (or "miscegenation") was illegal in Indiana, where they lived.

"We had to be very careful with police," recalls Harry.

He remembers that Carrie had two friends with very light complexions, and a cop pulled them over for riding with two black men, thinking they were mixing outside their race.

"They beat the crap out of them. Including the women," says Harry.

So they learned a few tricks. Carrie rode in the backseat of Harry's coupe, to make it appear he was taking "the help" home. He learned how to make quick left turns and disappear down alleys.

After they married (in 1958 New York City, where the union was legal), Harry's work as a sociology professor brought him to University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Carrie started her career with the St. Louis Urban League, where she eventually rose to vice president. In 26 years with the Urban League, Carrie Bash fought for equal rights in housing, education and jobs for black St. Louisans -- a legacy that Harry is concerned is being forgotten following her death on March 29.


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St. Louis County Police Shoot and Kill 23-Year-Old Thaddeus McCarroll in Jennings

Categories: Crime

The video above is from the body camera of one of several officers who responded to the home of Thaddeus McCarroll last night.

According to a release from St. Louis County police, McCarroll's mother called authorities because her 23-year-old son locked her out of the house, was wielding a knife and talking about being on a "journey" or "mission." The press statement says officers observed McCarroll walking around inside the house with "several knives and a Samurai sword."

The video is very grainy and was not directly pointed at McCarroll when police say he came out of the house holding a knife, then charged at them at "full speed" after a "less lethal round" shot at him had no effect.

Click through for the full police narrative. We'll have more information as the story develops.

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Local Podiatrist Charged Taxpayers $999,170 for Toenail Clippings

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Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Steve DePolo
Toenail clippings earned a Chesterfield podiatrist nearly $1 million -- but he won't be laughing all the way to the bank.
As far as white-collar crime goes, this is pretty icky stuff: Prosecutors say a St. Louis-area podiatrist charged the state and federal government nearly $1 million merely for clipping the toenails of Missouri's elderly residents.

And here's where prosecutors got involved: Podiatrist Lawrence B. Iken racked up those fees by telling Medicare and Medicaid that he'd instead been draining those elderly feet of their abscesses and hematomas.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Iken submitted $999,170 in fraudulent billings, for thousands of miscategorized incidents.

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Daily Show Hosts Missouri Governor Hopeful Eric Greitens

Categories: Politics

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Daily Show
Could this handsome Navy SEAL win the Missouri governor's seat?
At the moment, the race for Missouri governor is a mess.

Sure, Attorney General Chris Koster has piled up $3.2 million in his campaign coffers and appears to be the clear favorite to represent the Democratic Party in 2016. But Republicans? That's a whole other story. State auditor Tom Schwiech's suicide in February has left the state's GOPers scrambling, and this week, Lt. Governor Peter Kinder revealed he is considering entering the fray. He would join former Missouri House speaker Catherine Hanaway, businessman John Brunner and a several other Republican lawmakers.

However, the most intriguing addition to the 2016 governor's race is arguably Eric Greitens. A bestselling author and former Navy SEAL, Greitens' gubernatorial exploratory committee has already raised $479,000, according to campaign records. Last night, Greitens stopped by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to talk about his new book, Resilience, while also showing off how good he looks in a suit.

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St. Louis Parking Ticket Policy Is a Racket, Class-Action Suit Alleges

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Courtesy of Flickr/Lance McCord
Pissed about a parking ticket? Former St. Louis City Counselor Eric Banks has filed a class-action lawsuit against the city in circuit court, challenging its parking enforcement practices as a violation of constitutional rights. The suit seeks to represent anyone who received a citation for parking at an expired meter -- and was found liable after enduring the city's administrative hearing process.

Those hearings are the main issue in Banks' lawsuit. As the attorney describes it, he arrived for a hearing after getting a parking ticket he was convinced was unfair -- only to be told by the hearing officer that, unless he had evidence that the parking meter in question was broken at the time of citation, the officer would rule against him.

Then the officer did just that, even though the city hadn't bothered to send anyone to testify on its behalf, and even though Banks believed he'd identified procedural errors. The burden was entirely on Banks.

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