21 March 2017

Hans Reiser and Donald Trump

Update: I was contacted by the person responsible for a “free Hans Reiser” web site I had linked to, and told that he had been trolling. I’ve substituted the link with one going to a Slashdot discussion, as it demonstrates the same point that there were plenty of people who thought Hans might be innocent.

In October 2006, a Linux kernel programmer named Hans Reiser was arrested by police on suspicion of having murdered his ex-wife Nina. Reiser had been responsible for ReiserFS, one of the more advanced filesystems supported by Linux at the time; I used it on all my Linux machines.

Nina had last been seen after dropping off the kids at Hans’s house. She had failed to meet a friend later that day, and been declared missing after failing to pick the kids up from school. Her minivan had been found with groceries inside six days later, but no fingerprints other than Nina’s. There was no body found.

Like many, I found it unlikely that a successful computer programmer would murder someone. As the police started to set out the evidence, it all seemed pretty circumstantial. Yes, there were traces of blood found in Hans’s car and his house, but forensic testing couldn’t confirm it was Nina’s. Police said they found two books in Hans’s car: “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets”, which had inspired the TV series “Homicide: Life on the Street”, and an anthology of “true crime” writing called “Masterpieces of Murder”. Well, yes, but reading popular books about crime isn’t suspicious, is it?

Then things started to get strange. Police revealed that the passenger seat of Hans’s Honda CR-X was missing. Police also said they’d found a 40 piece socket set which had been purchased recently, and which could have been used to remove the car seat. Neighbors said they’d seen Hans hosing something off in his driveway, but weren’t sure what. But the seat had been present in the car when Hans had been stopped for a traffic violation nine days after Nina went missing — surely if he had murdered Nina and used his car to move the body, he wouldn’t have driven around with a seat spattered with blood for nine days before deciding to hose it down, and then get rid of it anyway? The facts were consistent with murder, but they didn’t prove it, and the supposed logic behind the narrative seemed severely lacking.

According to Hans, a few years earlier Nina had been seduced by someone he described in court divorce filings as a “lewd tattooed drug addicted BDSM pimp/whore” with multiple personality disorder. Hans suggested that perhaps Nina had fallen in with the wrong crowd.

It didn’t seem to make much sense. If Hans was the murderer, and was smart enough to get away with disposing of the body, and also with moving Nina’s car without leaving any fingerprints, why would he be so slipshod about cleaning his car? Many other people made similar points.

At the preliminary hearing, Hans’s son testified for the prosecution, but Hans’s lawyer complained that the boy had clearly been coached, and in any event both prosecution and defense considered the testimony inconsistent. Then before the trial could start, Sean Sturgeon, the person Nina had left Hans for, started claiming he was responsible for eight murders, and possibly a ninth. It was revealed that Nina had obtained Russian passports for herself and the kids, and Hans’s defense lawyer suggested that perhaps she was alive in Russia.

The story was just too crazy. Being skeptical, it seemed most likely to me that Hans was innocent, and that the circumstantial evidence was either random chance or an attempt to frame him — perhaps by the guy who claimed to be guilty of a bunch of murders.

I was totally wrong.

After being found guilty at trial, Hans Reiser confessed to second-degree murder, and took police to the location in the hills outside Oakland where he had buried Nina in a shallow grave.

The Reiser case taught me something important: on the whole, criminals are dumb. Even the ones who have skills in a particular narrow area — such as filesystem development — are generally lacking in what, for want of a better phrase, I’ll call “common sense”.

Criminals don’t think out their plans in advance; instead, they fall into criminal situations opportunistically or (as in Hans Reiser’s case) because they lack self control. They try to commit complicated crimes and coverups which are obviously likely to be beyond their logistical capabilities. They leave circumstantial evidence littered around, and they act in ways which clearly suggest guilt, such as making wild accusations against others.

Now I find myself thinking about the Reiser case as I consider each new piece of evidence linking Donald Trump to Russian oligarchs. Yes, there’s a mountain of circumstantial evidence, but it’s just that — circumstantial. As with Hans Reiser, there’s no ‘smoking gun’, no incontrovertible fact proving the crime; just a whole lot of people acting really suspiciously, and a ton of coincidences.

Sure, the Orbis dossier said that Trump’s team had been offered the brokerage on 19% of Rosneft, and Russia just happened to sell 19.5% of Rosneft later in the year and route some or all of the proceeds through offshore companies. Could be coincidence, right? And yes, Trump picked seven people with business ties to Russia to be his advisors, but maybe lots of millionaires do business with Russia, yes? That massive Russian money laundering ring that operated out of Trump Tower, well, maybe it’s just a really classy place that appeals to foreign businessmen? Dmitry Rybolovlev’s plane was often parked on the runway next to Trump’s jet during the 2016 campaign, but that could certainly be coincidence, and maybe it’s true that they’ve never met even though Trump sold Ryboloblev a mansion? And so on.

No, there’s no solid incontrovertible proof that Trump is being bankrolled and/or blackmailed by Russians. There was a time, not too long ago, when I’d have been skeptical enough to dismiss the whole thing as paranoia. But Hans Reiser taught me otherwise.

© mathew 2017