The Brutal Murder Of Lauren Giddings And The Chilling Evidence Police Found In Her Neighbor’s Apartment

The Brutal Murder Of Lauren Giddings And The Chilling Evidence Police Found In Her Neighbor’s Apartment

Lauren Giddings' neighbor and classmate, Stephen McDaniel, strangled and dismembered her before scattering her body parts in trash cans across Macon, Georgia.

Lauren Giddings spent the summer after she graduated from law school preparing for perhaps the most important test she would ever take — the Georgia Bar Exam. But her neighbor and classmate, Stephen McDaniel, had other plans. On June 26, 2011, McDaniel killed and dismembered 27-year-old Giddings.

Giddings had suspected that someone was watching her. She’d even emailed her boyfriend the night before her death and told him she thought someone had recently tried to break in.

Lauren Giddings was killed and dismembered by her neighbor, Stephen McDaniel, in 2011.

The murder made international headlines when McDaniel learned Giddings’ body had been found while he was giving an on-camera interview to the local news about her disappearance.

Investigators were soon able to connect McDaniel to Giddings’ death, and he pleaded guilty to the murder just before his 2014 trial. But over the course of the investigation, police discovered that Lauren Giddings hadn’t realized just how right she was about her eerie suspicions.

The Gruesome Murder Of Law School Graduate Lauren Giddings


Lauren Giddings was born on April 18, 1984 in Takoma Park, Maryland. She moved to Macon, Georgia in 2008 to attend law school at Mercer University. After her graduation in 2011, she remained in Macon to study for the Georgia Bar Exam.

In mid-June, Giddings told her family and friends that she would be relatively off the grid for the next few weeks, as she wanted to focus on her studies. But according to WGXA News, when Giddings’ sister, Kaitlyn Wheeler, realized on June 29 that she hadn’t even received a call or text from Giddings in days, she became concerned.

Wheeler got in touch with Giddings’ friends, who said they hadn’t heard from her either — so they went to investigate. Giddings’ car was in the parking lot of her apartment, but she didn’t answer the door when they knocked. One friend, Ashley Morehouse, knew where Giddings kept her spare key, so she unlocked the door and went inside.

Giddings’ books, keys, and purse were in the apartment, but she was nowhere to be found.

Morehouse called 911, and police arrived shortly. They noted that there were no signs of forced entry, and they didn’t see any blood that would suggest a struggle.

But when police sprayed luminol in the bathroom, the walls, floor, and bathtub lit up. They were no longer investigating a missing person case. This was the scene of a homicide.

The Disturbing Investigation Into Lauren Giddings’ Death


Police quickly taped off the crime scene and began searching the perimeter of the building. They were soon hit with a potent smell coming from the trash cans.

One of the detectives on the case later told the Oxygen series In Ice Cold Blood, “While we were standing there, the wind started to turn. Immediately, I smelled an odor that I was very familiar with. We all smell things in life that smell bad. And that of a body, or a decomposing body, is one of the worst things you’ll smell. But it has a very distinctive smell.”

Inside the trash can was Lauren Giddings’ torso wrapped in a plastic sheet.

Lauren Giddings graduated from Mercer University’s law school just weeks before she was murdered.

“They did not find the head, legs, or arms in either one of the trash cans,” the detective continued. “I had never seen anything like that before. Who could have done this? Because truthfully, only a monster could do something like that. It was absolutely horrible.”

At the time Giddings’ remains were discovered, Stephen McDaniel was giving an interview to a local news station, posing as a concerned friend who had no idea what had happened to Giddings. His demeanor quickly changed when he learned the body had been found.

“Body?” he said. “I think I need to sit down.”

McDaniel later voluntarily allowed police into his apartment as they searched the building for clues. Inside, detectives found that McDaniel had a master key for each apartment in the complex.

When questioned, McDaniel admitted that he’d broken into two neighboring apartments and stolen one c*nd*m from each one. With this information, police arrested him and brought him in for further interrogation.

A more thorough search of McDaniel’s apartment turned up packaging for a hacksaw, several flash drives, and a pair of underwear that was later discovered to have Giddings’ DNA on it. The flash drives contained p*rn*graphic images of children.

In the laundry room of the complex, police found a hacksaw that matched the packaging found in McDaniel’s apartment along with a bloody sheet. Testing later confirmed the blood was Giddings’.

According to the Talk Murder with Me podcast, on Aug. 2, 2011, Stephen McDaniel was charged with the murder of Lauren Giddings. He was later charged with seven counts of child se*ual exploitation as well.

The Signs Leading Up To Lauren Giddings’ Murder


Lauren Giddings had previously mentioned to her sister that something seemed strange about her apartment. “She felt things had been moved around, someone had been in her apartment,” Wheeler said.

Investigators found that Giddings sent her last email on the evening of June 25, 2011 to her boyfriend, David Vandiver. Vandiver was on a golf trip in California, and Giddings mentioned that she thought someone had tried to break into her apartment on the night of Thursday, June 23.

However, Giddings downplayed the situation, saying it was probably just “Macon hoodlums.”

But Giddings’ feelings had been justified. A memory card taken from McDaniel’s apartment revealed that he’d been stalking her.

According to Bibb County District Attorney David Cooke, “We found deleted video he had used to survey her home… He had took a wooden pole and had duct-taped or somehow fixed that camera to the end of the pole and then held the pole up really high to peek inside her window.”

McDaniel’s search history was also filled with hits for her social media and LinkedIn profiles. Cooke revealed, “Sometimes he would be searching for images of her around the same time that he was looking up violent p*rn*graphy.”

Stephen McDaniel murdered Lauren Giddings in 2011 and confessed in 2014.

McDaniel initially pleaded not guilty, but when prosecutors agreed to drop the child se*ual exploitation charges, he changed his mind. In April 2014, a week before his trial was set to start, Stephen McDaniel admitted to killing and dismembering Lauren Giddings.

Stephen McDaniel’s Grisly Confession To Lauren Giddings’ Murder


In the early morning hours of June 26, 2011, Stephen McDaniel detailed in his confession, he had used his master key to enter Giddings’ apartment. He watched her sleep for a while, but as he moved toward her, a creak in the bed woke her up. She saw him and yelled, “Get the f— out!”

McDaniel then jumped on top of her, grabbing her throat. Though she fought hard, he had soon strangled her to death. He dragged her body to the bathroom and returned home.

The next night, he returned with the hacksaw and dismembered her body. He then placed her limbs in various trash cans throughout the area. If the police had not been called to the scene when they were, trash collection services would have emptied the can where Giddings’ torso was located, and the case may have gone cold.

But thanks to the quick action of Lauren Giddings’ sister and friends, Stephen McDaniel was sentenced to life in prison. Giddings’ family will not get the chance to see her become a criminal defense attorney like she dreamed, but they have found peace knowing her killer will never walk free.
The Gruesome Murder Of Stacey Stanton And The Wrongful Conviction Of Her Black Friend

The Gruesome Murder Of Stacey Stanton And The Wrongful Conviction Of Her Black Friend

Elizabeth Stacey Stanton was a North Carolina waitress whose grisly 1990 stabbing murder shook up the small town of Manteo. Then her friend Clifton Spencer was thrown in prison for it — despite almost no evidence.

The murder of Stacey Stanton rocked the sleepy North Carolina town of Manteo to its core. Only a couple thousand people lived in this coastal hamlet, most of whom seemed to be fond of the 28-year-old waitress. On Feb. 3, 1990, however, somebody had stabbed her to death — and sadistically desecrated her corpse.

Stacey Stanton was stabbed more than 16 times in a brutal murder that eventually saw her friend Clifton Spencer wrongfully convicted.

Found naked on her apartment floor with hair clutched in her hand, Stanton had been stabbed 16 times. She suffered two fatal slashes to the throat and had her right breast, chest, and vagina mutilated. The autopsy on Feb. 4 concluded the killer did this when Stanton was already dead.

“The infliction of the sharply incised wounds to the breast and vagina region while the deceased was dying or already dead strongly suggests a fetishistic activity on the part of the assailant,” L.S. Harris, the Greenville County Medical Examiner, wrote in his report.

She was last seen with her friend, a Black man named Clifton Spencer. Yet, despite no hard evidence linking him to the crime, as well as a lab report that showed no so-called “Negroid hair” at the scene, it was Spencer who was charged with Stacey Stanton’s murder — and sentenced to life in prison.

The Murder Of Stacey Stanton


Elizabeth Stacey Stanton was born on Nov. 16, 1961, in New Jersey. She moved to Manteo in 1987 and earned her living waiting tables at the Duchess of Dare Restaurant. It wasn’t far from her apartment on Ananias Dare Street, which made her failure to show up for work on Feb. 3, 1990, all the more puzzling.

Stanton’s vagina, right breast, and chest were slashed in the killing.

Clifton Spencer, meanwhile, lived in Columbia across the Alligator River. Unemployed, he slept on couches, worked odd jobs, and often used cocaine. He had driven to Manteo with a friend and ran into Stanton at the Green Dolphin Pub on February 2. Brandon was there with his new girlfriend Patty Roe. Stanton eventually left, upset.

When Spencer left, he saw Stacey Stanton outside of her place waving him in. She asked him to convince Brandon to come talk to her but Brandon declined. Spencer returned to her apartment and they both drank vodka for a few hours. She then gave Spencer $35 to buy crack cocaine, but he returned empty-handed an hour later.

“We were in the living room, and we’d been drinking, and we both kind of fell asleep on the floor,” said Spencer. “She kind of nudged me to wake up. And I got up and left. I went to my friend Wayne’s house and waited outside until he came home. Then, we both went in and crashed on chairs at his place.”

Stacey Stanton was found dead when a coworker dropped by to check on her at 2 p.m. that day. Local police and the Dare County Sheriff’s Office investigated with the State Bureau of Investigations. No evidence of rape was found on Stanton’s body. there was no sign of forced entry, but a bloody washcloth was left behind.

Harris determined that Stanton died in the “early morning hours” of February 3. Her neighbor Nancy Austin heard her come home at 1 a.m. but didn’t notice any commotion. Since the apartment yielded both Brandon and Spencer’s fingerprints and the former had an alibi, all eyes fell on Spencer — who had a criminal record.

Clifton Spencer Goes To Prison


Wayne Morris confirmed that Spencer arrived at 4:30 a.m. That would still have given Clifton Spencer enough time to kill Stacey Stanton, but there was no blood on his clothes or in Morris’ home where he slept. Oddly, the local newspaper, which was typically delivered after 6 a.m., was found mere feet from Stanton’s body.

Spencer pleaded no contest to second-degree murder.

There were only 13 identifiable fingerprints at the scene. A March 1990 physical evidence report from the SBI would show that seven of these were Spencer’s, four were Stanton’s, and only two were Brandon’s. The latter had an alibi for the morning hours of February 3, while Spencer was picked up in Columbia on February 4.

“When I got back to Columbia the next day, a sheriff’s deputy called me over to this car and asked me to come to the department,” said Spencer. “I didn’t know what he wanted. But when he called the dispatcher, he told her he had the murder suspect.”

While being questioned without a lawyer present, Clifton Spencer maintained his innocence. Police mostly noted his previous arrests for drug possession and attacking an ex-girlfriend with scissors. After agreeing to a polygraph test, he allegedly failed when asked if he killed Stanton. He was indicted on first-degree murder charges on April 2.

Spencer was represented by NAACP attorney Romallus O. Murphy and adamantly pleaded not guilty at the Dare County courthouse on June 11, 1990. Murphy filed six pre-trial motions that included a request for a change of venue to get a fairer jury pool but then began urging Spencer to plead no contest.

“I told them I’d rather die than plead guilty to something I didn’t do,” recalled Spencer. “That lawyer told my mom I’d be sentenced to die if I took my case to trial. ‘A black man accused of killing a white woman in a small, Southern town doesn’t have much chance,’ that NAACP guy said.”

Clifton Spencer pleaded no contest to second-degree murder on Jan. 9, 1991, and was sentenced to life in prison.

How Further Revelations About Stacey Stanton’s Murder Led To Clifton Spencer’s Release


On April 24, 1992, Spencer filed a 77-page petition arguing that his attorney had forced him to accept the plea deal. The court-appointed Nags Head lawyer Edgar Barnes in May. Barnes was confident Spencer was innocent and contacted District Attorney Frank Parrish to request a more thorough investigation.

Spencer is now a truck driver.

“I sincerely and personally believe Clifton Spencer to be innocent and will continue to fight to see that he receives due justice,” he wrote. “I ask you to consider reopening this case. Or at least let me have access to all the police officers’ investigation files in order that I might be satisfied that justice has been served.”

On April 22, 1993, however, Judge Gary Trawick ruled that Spencer voluntarily pleaded no contest and had to serve his full sentence. By June 1995, Barnes became a District Court judge himself and was no longer able to represent Spencer — who shared a cell with 35 others and no air-conditioning.

In October 1995, a private investigator gave Spencer two polygraphs — which Spencer passed. Meanwhile, any record of Spencer’s supposed polygraph in 1990 was nowhere to be found. In 1997, a witness who had seen Stanton at the pub on Feb. 2 claimed Brandon’s girlfriend threatened her.

Brandon was arrested for breaking into the Dare County courthouse and trying to the vault containing evidence from criminal cases.

Spencer’s luck started to change when he demanded new DNA tests from the washcloth in 2005. While they failed to implicate another suspect, they didn’t contain Spencer’s DNA. With new lawyers and help from the Innocence Project, he was finally released in July 2007 — and now works as a truck driver.

Though Stacey Stanton’s horrific murder remains tragically unsolved after more than two decades, the miscarriage of justice suffered by Clifton Spencer was finally set right.
Inside The Atlanta Child Murders That Left At Least 28 People dead

Inside The Atlanta Child Murders That Left At Least 28 People dead

Though Wayne Williams was convicted in two cases, who was behind the rest of the Atlanta murders that left at least 28 dead from 1979 to 1981?

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a mysterious killer terrorized Black communities in Atlanta. One by one, Black children and young adults were being kidnapped and turning up dead days or weeks later. These grisly cases would later become known as the Atlanta Child Murders.

Police eventually arrested a local man named Wayne Williams in connection to the heinous crimes. But Williams was only ever convicted of two murders — far less than the 29 slayings he was implicated in. Furthermore, he was found guilty of killing two men in their 20s, not children.

Although the homicides appeared to stop after Williams was arrested, some believe that he was not responsible for the Atlanta Child Murders — including some of the victims’ families. The tragic case was later explored in the Netflix series Mindhunter in 2019. And that same year, the real Atlanta Child Murders case was reopened in the hopes of finding the truth.

But will the city’s new investigation truly bring justice to the children? Or will it just lead to more questions without answers?

The Atlanta Child Murders Of The 1970s and 1980s


On a balmy summer day in July 1979, the first body linked to the Atlanta Child Murders case was discovered. Thirteen-year-old Alfred Evans was found in a vacant lot, his cold body shirtless and barefoot. He had been killed by strangulation. Tragically, he had disappeared just three days earlier.

But as police were investigating the apparent crime scene in the vacant lot, they couldn’t help but notice a strong odor emanating from nearby vines. And they would soon discover the body of another Black child — 14-year-old Edward Hope Smith. Unlike Evans, Smith had been killed by gunshot. But eerily, he was found just 150 feet away from Evans.

The deaths of Evans and Smith were brutal. But authorities weren’t too alarmed — they simply wrote off the murder cases as being “drug-related.” Then, a few months later, more Black youths started turning up dead.

The next bodies uncovered were 14-year-old Milton Harvey and 9-year-old Yusuf Bell. Both children had been strangled to death. Bell, the fourth victim, had been living in a housing project just four blocks away from where his body was found. His death hit the local community especially hard.

“The whole neighborhood cried ’cause they loved that child,” said Bell’s neighbor, who knew he enjoyed math and history. “He was God-gifted.”

Four murdered Black kids in the span of a few months raised suspicion among the victims’ families that the crimes could be related. Still, the Atlanta Police did not establish any official links between the murders.

Yusuf Bell, 9, was the fourth victim discovered during the Atlanta Child Murders case.

By March 1980, the death toll had reached six. At this point, it became increasingly clear to residents that their communities were in serious danger. Parents started imposing curfews on their children.

And yet, victims kept turning up. They were almost all boys, except for two girls. And though a couple of victims linked to the case were later identified as adult men, most of them were children. And all of them were Black.

African American communities in and around Atlanta were gripped with fear and anxiety, but they were also extremely frustrated — since the Atlanta Police had still not drawn a connection between the cases.

Black Mothers Rally Against Police Inaction


Camille Bell, the mother of Yusuf Bell, joined forces with other parents of victims to form the Committee to Stop Children’s Murders.

Even with heightened vigilance in the community, kids kept disappearing. In March 1980, Willie Mae Mathis was watching the news with her 10-year-old son Jefferey when they both saw investigators moving the body of one of the victims. She warned her young son about interacting with strangers.


“He said, ‘Mama, I don’t do that. I don’t talk to strangers,'” Mathis recalled. Tragically, the very next day, Jefferey went to the corner store to get a loaf of bread — but he never made it there. His remains were found a year later.

The reality that Black youths were being preyed on and murdered in Atlanta sent shockwaves through the city’s communities.

Even more chilling, the circumstances of the deaths varied in the Atlanta Child Murders. Some children died of strangulation, while others died of stabbing, bludgeoning, or gunshot wounds. Worse yet, the cause of death for some of the victims, like Jefferey Mathis, was left undetermined.

By May, the grieving families had still not received any significant updates on the investigation. Frustrated by Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson’s inaction and the reluctance of the Atlanta Police to recognize the murders as connected, the community began organizing on their own.

In August, Camille Bell, the mother of Yusuf Bell, joined forces with other parents of victims and formed the Committee to Stop Children’s Murders. The committee was supposed to act as a community-powered coalition to push for accountability over the stalled investigations of the slain kids.

Incredibly, it worked. The city significantly increased both the size of the investigation’s task force and the total reward money for tips. Bell and the committee members also successfully galvanized the community to become active in safeguarding their neighborhoods.

“We were encouraging people to get to know their neighbors,” Bell told People magazine. “We were encouraging the busybodies to go back to dipping into everybody’s business. We were saying that if you tolerated crime in your neighborhood you were asking for trouble.”

According to Bell, the murder of 13-year-old Clifford Jones — a visitor from Cleveland — also helped push Atlanta’s authorities into action. After all, the murder of a tourist had made national news.

Meanwhile, local citizens armed themselves with baseball bats, volunteering for the city’s neighborhood patrol. And other volunteers joined the citywide search to uncover clues that could help solve the case.

A few months after the committee’s formation, Georgia officials requested that the FBI join the investigation. Five of the nation’s top homicide detectives were brought in as consultants. And two U.S. Justice Department officials were also dispatched to the city to provide support.

The Arrest And Conviction Of Wayne Williams For Some Of The Atlanta Murders


Wayne Williams after his arrest (L), and Williams portrayed by Christopher Livingston in Mindhunter (R).

From 1979 to 1981, 29 Black children and young adults were identified as victims in the Atlanta Child Murders. On April 13, 1981, FBI Director William Webster announced that the Atlanta Police had identified the killers — seemingly indicating multiple perpetrators — of four of the slain children. However, authorities lacked sufficient evidence to file charges.

Then, a month later, a police officer working the department’s stakeout operation along the Chattahoochee River heard a splashing sound. The officer then saw a station wagon pass overhead on the South Cobb Drive Bridge. Suspicious, he decided to stop the driver for questioning. That driver was a 23-year-old man named Wayne Williams.

The officer let Williams go — but not before grabbing a few fibers from his car. And just two days later, the body of 27-year-old Nathaniel Carter was discovered downstream. Eerily, the body wasn’t far from where the body of 21-year-old Jimmy Ray Payne had been found just a month earlier.

In June 1981, Wayne Williams was arrested in connection to the deaths of Payne and Carter. He would later be convicted of the murders of both men, who were among the few adult victims in the Atlanta murders case. And Williams was sentenced to life in prison. But although he was accused of being the Atlanta child killer, he was never convicted of any other murders.

Since Wayne Williams’ arrest, there have been no more related killings — at least none that were reported as such. But there are some who remain skeptical that Williams was a serial killer, including many of the victims’ families. And to this day, Williams maintains his innocence.

Additionally, Wayne Williams’ conviction relied on a few strands of fiber that the prosecution claimed were found on the bodies of Carter and Payne. Apparently, these fibers matched a rug in Williams’ car and a blanket in his home. But fiber evidence is often considered less than reliable. And discrepancies in witness testimonies cast more doubt on Williams’ guilt.

A number of alternative theories have cropped up throughout the years, ranging from a pedophile ring to the government conducting horrific experiments on Black children. But one of the most widely believed theories is that the Ku Klux Klan was behind the Atlanta Child Murders.

In 1991, it was revealed that a police informant allegedly heard a KKK member named Charles Theodore Sanders verbally threaten to choke a Black teenager named Lubie Geter after the boy accidentally scratched his truck — while the Atlanta Child Murders were still happening.

Horrifically, Geter ended up becoming one of the victims. His body was discovered in 1981, just weeks after Sanders’ threat. He had been strangled — and his genitals, lower pelvic area, and both feet were all missing.

Years later, a 2015 report by Spin magazine uncovered shocking details of a high-level secret investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and various other law enforcement agencies. This investigation apparently found that Sanders — and his white supremacist family members — planned to kill more than two dozen Black children to incite a race war in Atlanta.

Evidence, witness accounts, and informant reports suggested a link between the Sanders family and Geter’s death — and possibly 14 other child murders. So to “keep the peace” in the city, investigators allegedly decided to suppress evidence of possible KKK involvement in the Atlanta Child Murders.

But despite authorities’ efforts to conceal evidence linked to the KKK, many of the city’s Black residents already — and still — suspected that the white supremacist group was responsible for the crimes.

However, officials involved in the primary investigation maintain that they had enough evidence to connect Wayne Williams to the killings. To this day, Williams remains in prison — and he’s been denied parole multiple times.

In a rare interview in 1991, Williams revealed that he had befriended some of the brothers of the victims — as they had ended up in the same prison. He also said that he had been in touch with some of the victims’ mothers. He said, “I truly hope they find out who killed their children.”

Why The Atlanta Child Murders Case Was Reopened


Despite the countless theories about what really happened to Atlanta’s children, it’s clear that much was left unsettled and unresolved. That’s a big reason why the case has been reopened.

In March 2019, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms — who grew up during the height of the Atlanta Child Murders — reopened the case. Bottoms said that evidence should be retested using the latest forensic technology, which was not available during the investigation four decades ago.

In an emotional interview following the announcement, Bottoms recalled what it was like growing up during this terrifying time: “It was like there was a boogeyman out there, and he was snatching Black children.”

Bottoms added, “It could have been any of us… I hope that [reexamining the case] says to the public that our children matter. African American children still matter. They mattered in 1979 and [they matter] now.”

Not everyone shared the mayor’s conviction that the case needed another look. In fact, some believe it’s basically already solved.

“There was other evidence, more fibers and dog hairs brought into court, along with witness testimony. And there is the inescapable fact that Wayne Williams was on that bridge, and two bodies washed up days later,” said Danny Agan, a retired Atlanta homicide detective who investigated three of the murders. “Wayne Williams is a serial killer, a predator, and he did the bulk of these murders.”

While some like Agan insist that Williams was the Atlanta child murderer, Police Chief Erika Shields does believe that the Atlanta Child Murders case deserves another investigation.

“This is about being able to look these families in the eye,” Shields told the New York Times, “and say we did everything we could possibly do to bring closure to your case.”

In recent years, renewed interest in the Atlanta Child Murders has also permeated pop culture. The infamous case became the main plot in season two of the Netflix crime series Mindhunter. The series itself was largely inspired by a book of the same name, written by former FBI Agent John Douglas — who is considered a pioneer in criminal profiling.

As for Douglas, he believed that Wayne Williams was responsible for some of the murders — but perhaps not all of them. He once said, “It isn’t a single offender, and the truth isn’t pleasant.”

Currently, investigators are examining and reexamining every bit of evidence available. But it’s difficult to say whether the renewed efforts will yield any significant closure for the families and the city at large.

“The question will be, who, what, when, and why. That’s what it’s always going to be,” said Lois Evans, the mother of the first victim, Alfred Evans. “I’m blessed to still be here. Just [to] wait to see what the end will be, before I leave this Earth.”

She added: “I think it will be part of history that Atlanta will never forget.”

The Argument That Video Games Spur Mass Shootings Is Losing Steam

The Argument That Video Games Spur Mass Shootings Is Losing Steam

On the painful occasion of a mass shooting in the US, it has become customary for some politician or pundit to point an accusatory finger at video games. In late May, after two such attacks — in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, it was Texas Senator Ted Cruz. These tragedies, he said in a speech at a National Rifle Association convention, were a mirror of our culture, and specifically, where our culture is failing.

In addition to “broken families” and “declining church attendance,” he said, “desensitizing the act of murder in video games” has contributed to the epidemic of mass shootings.

What surprised me wasn’t what Cruz said. It was how little traction it received in the mainstream media. A Fox News host asked his guest, Arizona State University criminal justice professor Bernard Zapor, whether violent video games’ heightened realism contributed to an increase in mass homicides. Zapor dodged, instead citing the dissolution of community bonds.

Most coverage of Cruz’s comments (and Fox’s interview) were in the service of invalidating the question itself: Decades of research have shown no connection between playing violent video games and committing violent acts.

For more than 20 years years, the idea that video games like Doom somehow spurred these heinous shootings held sway in popular culture. In the ‘90s, “There was really no pushback,” said Chris Ferguson, Stetson University’s co-chair of psychology, who has studied violent video games’ impact on gamers for about 20 years.

Doom is known for its gore and violence. Source: Bethesda Softworks

Ferguson recalled a time when there was widespread, bipartisan agreement that gory shooters could inspire teens and young adults to commit violent acts. Then, he says, something changed.

“You see half-hearted attempts by Ted Cruz and a few other people bringing up video games, but there’s not much enthusiasm behind it,” Ferguson said. “I don’t think anyone’s biting at the apple anymore.”

Stanley Pierre-Louis, president and Chief Executive Officer of the Entertainment Software Association, agrees. “The frequency of the arguments have lessened,” he said. “When they do arise, policymakers are rebutting those with the evidence that's on the record.”

I asked search analytics firm NewsWhip for data on social media engagement around “video game violence” over time. Then, I cross-referenced that data with mass shooting events. I am not a scientist, but it was interesting to see violent video games brought up less and less often around mass homicides. A glance at Google Trends shows a broader decline in searches on “video game violence” generally since 2004.

Some of the drop is attributable to better research. Studies carried out over many years have repeatedly disproven any connection between playing violent video games and committing acts of violence. “Media has very little impact on behavior generally across the board, including games” said Rachel Kowert, research director for mental health nonprofit TakeThis.

Notably, other countries with similar rates of video game play don’t have similar rates of gun violence. To Kowert, Cruz’s reference after the Uvalde attack was “Nauseating. It’s so tiring and exhausting to see politicians continually draw on that as a reason to justify violent criminal behavior when we know from the research that there’s no evidence to prove it.”

Still, she thinks the public continues to link together video games and violence — including parents who approach her at conventions with concerns about gaming. The argument to make the connection is still "ubiquitous enough," she said, adding that she’s disappointed that rebuttals have "not reached the point of saturation."

The persistent link between violence and video games seems to be political— a mirror to our culture, from the eyes of the beholder. For example, in one 2019 study of more than 200,000 news stories about 204 mass shootings in the US, researchers noted that video games were more than eight times more likely to be referenced if the shooter was White instead of Black.

Ferguson noticed a shift around when Donald Trump was in office. In 2019, Trump made statements associating “gruesome and grisly video games” to a culture of violence after mass homicides in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. His statements received enormous pushback from researchers, journalists and even other politicians.

Hillary Clinton, who had made similar comments in the 2000s herself, spoke out. “People suffer from mental illness in every other country on earth; people play video games in virtually every other country on earth,” she said. “The difference is the guns.”

As video games grow less compelling as an explanation for this senseless violence, perhaps politicians and pundits will turn to factors more provably associated with gun violence. “It's clear that video games are not causing real world violence,” said ESA’s Pierre-Louis. “And I think we're seeing a significant effort among policymakers today, particularly on the federal level, to engage in legislation involving the sale of guns,”
Caffeine Consumption Leads to Impulsivity during Shopping, New Study Shows

Caffeine Consumption Leads to Impulsivity during Shopping, New Study Shows

New research conducted at multiple retail stores across different countries and in the lab indicates that consuming a caffeinated (vs. non-caffeinated) beverage before shopping leads to higher shopping impulsivity in terms of a higher number of items purchased and greater spending. Additionally, the effects of caffeine on shopping impulsivity were stronger for high hedonic (vs. low hedonic) products. Also, the effects of caffeine on spending hold for people who drink up to 2 cups of coffee (or less) daily and get attenuated for heavy coffee drinkers.

Caffeine is the world’s most popular stimulant and is consumed daily by a significant portion of the world’s population through coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks.

Consumers often shop online and in brick-and-mortar stores immediately after or while consuming caffeinated beverages, with this phenomenon being catalyzed by the presence of coffee shops and widespread availability of caffeinated beverages.

This is further facilitated by some retail stores providing complimentary foods/beverages that might contain caffeine.

Despite the prevalence of coffee consumption before shopping, there is no research insight as to how consuming coffee or other caffeinated beverages could influence purchase behavior.

That is, how might drinking a caffeinated beverage (e.g., a cup of coffee) before shopping influence the number of items consumers purchase and their overall spending?

“Caffeine, as a powerful stimulant, releases dopamine in the brain, which excites the mind and the body,” said Professor Dipayan Biswas, a researcher at the University of South Florida.

“This leads to a higher energetic state, which in turn enhances impulsivity and decreases self-control.”

Professor Biswas and colleagues ran three experiments in several retail stores.

The experiments consisted of setting up an espresso machine at the entrances of a retail chain and home goods store in France and a department store in Spain.

Upon entry, more than 300 shoppers were provided a complimentary cup — with about half offered coffee that contained about 100 mg of caffeine and the others decaf or water.

They then shared their receipts with the researchers as they exited the stores.

The authors found that shoppers who drank a cup of complimentary caffeinated coffee prior to roaming the stores spent about 50% more money and bought nearly 30% more items than shoppers who drank decaf or water.

They also found that caffeine also impacted what types of items they bought.

Those who drank caffeinated coffee bought more non-essential items than the other shoppers, such as scented candles and fragrances.

However, there was a minimal difference between the two groups when it came to utilitarian purchases, such as kitchen utensils and storage baskets.

The researchers set up a fourth experiment in a lab and received similar results, this time regarding online shopping.

They split the study pool of 200 business school students between individuals who consumed caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee and asked them to pick which items they’d purchase from a preselected list of 66 options.

Those who consumed caffeine picked more items considered to be impulsive purchases, such as a massager, while others selected more practical items, such as a notebook.

“While moderate amounts of caffeine intake can have positive health benefits, there can be unintended consequences of being caffeinated while shopping,” Dr. Biswas said.

“That is, consumers trying to control impulsive spending should avoid consuming caffeinated beverages before shopping.”

The study was published in the Journal of Marketing.

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Dipayan Biswas et al. Caffeine’s Effects on Consumer Spending. Journal of Marketing, published online June 11, 2022; doi: 10.1177/00222429221109247
Dog-assisted interventions lead to lower stress levels in children

Dog-assisted interventions lead to lower stress levels in children

The new study compared cortisol levels in elementary school children in the UK who participated in dog-assisted intervention sessions.

Dog-assisted interventions can lead to significantly lower stress in children both with and without special needs, according to a new study using salivary cortisol levels published this week in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Kerstin Meints of University of Lincoln, UK, and colleagues.

Prolonged exposure to stressors can cause adverse effects on learning, behavior, health and wellbeing in children over their lifespan. Several approaches to alleviating stress have been explored in schools including yoga, mindfulness, meditation, physical activity, teaching style interventions and animal-assisted interventions.

In the new study, the researchers tracked levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the saliva of 105 eight- to nine-year-old children in four mainstream schools in the UK as well as 44 similarly aged children from seven special education needs schools in the UK. The children were randomly stratified into three groups: a dog group, relaxation group or control group. In the dog group, participants interacted for 20 minutes with a trained dog and handler; the meditation group involved a 20-minute relaxation session. Sessions were carried out twice a week for four weeks.

Dog interventions lead to significantly lower cortisol levels in children in both mainstream and special needs schools. In mainstream schools, children in the control and relaxation groups had increases in mean salivary cortisol over the course of the school term. However, children who participated in either group or individual sessions with dogs had no statistically significant increase in cortisol. In addition, their cortisol levels were, on average, lower immediately after each dog session. For children with special educational needs, similar patterns were seen, with decreases in cortisol after dog group interventions. The authors conclude that dog interventions can successfully attenuate stress levels in school children but point out that additional research into the ideal amounts of time and contact with dogs for optimal effect is needed.

The authors add: “Dog-assisted interventions can lead to lower stress levels in school children with and without special educational needs”

Citation: Meints K, Brelsford VL, Dimolareva M, Maréchal L, Pennington K, Rowan E, et al. (2022) Can dogs reduce stress levels in school children? effects of dog-assisted interventions on salivary cortisol in children with and without special educational needs using randomized controlled trials. PLoS ONE 17(6): e0269333. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0269333

Author Countries: U.K., U.S.A.

Funding: The author KM received funding from 2015-2018 for this project from WALTHAM™ Centre for Pet Nutrition, Leicestershire, U.K. https://www.waltham.com/. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

JOURNAL

PLoS ONE

DOI

10.1371/journal.pone.0269333

METHOD OF RESEARCH

Randomized controlled/clinical trial

SUBJECT OF RESEARCH

People

ARTICLE TITLE

Can dogs reduce stress levels in school children? effects of dog-assisted interventions on salivary cortisol in children with and without special educational needs using randomized controlled trials

ARTICLE PUBLICATION DATE

15-Jun-2022

COI STATEMENT

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
8-Year-Old Texas Boy Dies After Getting Stuck Between Washer And Dryer While Playing Hide-And-Seek

8-Year-Old Texas Boy Dies After Getting Stuck Between Washer And Dryer While Playing Hide-And-Seek

Wrangler Hendrix's family discovered him "wedged between a washer and dryer" and immediately began CPR, Police.

An 8-year-old boy has died after getting stuck between a washing machine and dryer while playing hide-and-seek.

Thomas County Sheriff's Office Captain Tim Watkins confirms to PEOPLE that Wrangler Hendrix, who was from Jewett, Texas, was playing the game while at visiting a relative's home in Coolidge, Georgia, with his grandparents Friday.

Capt. Watkins tells PEOPLE authorities believe the boy was trying to hide behind the appliances when he got stuck. The child's family discovered him "wedged between a washer and dryer," and immediately began CPR.

Authorities were called to the home after Hendrix was found "unresponsive," according to Capt. Watkins.

"The child was transported to Archbold Memorial Hospital in Thomasville, Georgia, where resuscitation attempts continued," Capt. Watkins added in his statement.

"After approximately one hour of resuscitation attempts, the child was pronounced at approximately 7:28 PM."

Though law enforcement officials believe Hendrix died from positional asphyxiation, an official autopsy is expected to be performed Wednesday.

"The Thomas County Sheriff's Office would like to express our deepest condolences to the family of Wrangler," says Capt. Watkins.

Wrangler, the son of Rhonda White and William Andrew Hendrix, was a second-grade student described as a "sweetheart" by those who knew him.

"My heart breaks for all of you. Praying for peace and comfort for you during these dark days. Wrangler was a sweetheart. So thankful for the time I got to be his bus driver," one person wrote in an online tribute.

"He was so well-mannered and took care of his sister. They were so excited about their trip and the beach. We joked about wearing lots of sunscreen as they got off the bus. Rest in heavenly peace, Wrangler."

Funeral services for Wrangler will be held on Tuesday, June 21, at 2 p.m. at Sardis Baptist Church in Jewett.

Mother of Patriot Front member arrested at Idaho Pride event kicks him out of his house: ‘Pack your stuff and get out’

Mother of Patriot Front member arrested at Idaho Pride event kicks him out of his house: ‘Pack your stuff and get out’

After dozens of members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front were arrested for allegedly planning to provoke violence at an Idaho Pride event, a mother of one of the members revealed that she was so disgusted with her son’s actions that she kicked him out of the house.

Speaking to The Daily Beast, Karen Amsden, the mother of Jared Michael Boyce, said that said she was going public with hopes of damaging her son’s reputation with the group and to steer him away from extremism.

“I would love to do whatever I can to out him [as a Patriot Front member] so that he can’t be a part of it,” Amsden said, “and that they don’t want him to be a part of their group because his mom has loose lips and a big mouth and he’s never going to get away with anything.”


She went on to say that her son vowed to remain from the group after he was arrested, so she’s giving him a choice.

“I told him, ‘Well, then you can’t live here. You can choose between Patriot Front and your family,’” she said, “and he’s like, ‘Well, I can’t quit Patriot Front.’ I’m like, ‘Well, then you’ve just chosen. So pack your stuff and get out of my house.’”

Boyce, 27, of Utah, was among 31 members who were arrested after they were seen climbing into a U-Haul truck. The truck was reportedly packed with riot gear, shields and a smoke grenade, along with an “operations plan” for storming the event.

“Don’t believe the media, mom,” Boyce said according to his mother. “We were just there because they’re grooming kids.”

“This is not who I raised. This is not the example that was set for him,” she said.
Gel that repairs heart attack damage could improve health of millions

Gel that repairs heart attack damage could improve health of millions

Injectable, biodegradable technology developed by the UK team works as a scaffold to help new tissue grow.

British researchers have developed a biodegradable gel to repair damage caused by a heart attack in a breakthrough that could improve the health of millions of survivors worldwide.

There are more than 100,000 hospital admissions every year due to heart attacks in the UK alone – one every five minutes. Medical advances mean more people than ever before survive, with 1.4 million Britons alive today after experiencing a heart attack. But hearts have a very limited ability to regenerate, meaning survivors are left at risk of heart failure and other health problems.

Now after years of efforts searching for solutions to help the heart repair itself, researchers at the University of Manchester have created a gel that can be injected directly into the beating heart – effectively working as a scaffold to help injected cells grow new tissue.

There are more than 100,000 hospital admissions every year due to heart attacks in the UK alone. Photograph: Barry Diomede/Alamy.

Until now, when cells have been injected into the heart to reduce the risk of heart failure, only 1% have stayed in place and survived. But the gel can hold them in place as they graft onto the heart.

“While it’s still early days, the potential this new technology has in helping to repair failing hearts after a heart attack is huge,” said Katharine King, who led the research-backed by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). “We’re confident that this gel will be an effective option for future cell-based therapies to help the damaged heart to regenerate.

To prove the technology could work, researchers showed the gel can support the growth of normal heart muscle tissue. When they added human cells reprogrammed to become heart muscle cells into the gel, they were able to grow in a dish for three weeks and the cells started to spontaneously beat.

Echocardiograms (ultrasounds of the heart) and electrocardiograms (ECGs, which measure the electrical activity of the heart) on mice confirmed the safety of the gel. To gain more knowledge, researchers will test the gel after mice have a heart attack to show they develop new muscle tissue.

The study is being presented at the British Cardiovascular Society conference in Manchester.

Prof James Leiper, an associate medical director at the BHF, said: “We’ve come so far in our ability to treat heart attacks, and today more people than ever survive. However, this also means that more people are surviving with damaged hearts and are at risk of developing heart failure.

“This new injectable technology harnesses the natural properties of peptides to potentially solve one of the problems that have hindered this type of therapy for years. If the benefits are replicated in further research and then in patients, these gels could become a significant component of future treatments to repair the damage caused by heart attacks.”

Separate research being presented at the same conference found that obesity can drive hearts to fail and weaken their structure.

The largest study of its kind on 490,000 people found that those with a higher body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio had about a 30% increased risk of heart failure. This risk occurred regardless of other risks for heart failure such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Dr Zahra Raisi-Estabragh, from Queen Mary University of London, who supervised the study, said: “We already know that obesity increases the risk of heart and circulatory diseases that can go on to cause heart failure. But now we have revealed that obesity itself could be a driver of hearts starting to fail.”
Dogs have two gene mutations that explain why they are friendly

Dogs have two gene mutations that explain why they are friendly

A genetic and behavioural study has identified two mutations in a gene called melanocortin 2 that help explain why dogs are so social with humans.

Dogs may have developed the social skills to interact with humans in part due to mutations in a stress-response gene.

Miho Nagasawa at Azabu University in Japan and his colleagues analyzed genetic variations in four genes in 642 domesticated dogs.

The team chose the four genes – oxytocin (OT), oxytocin receptor (OTR), melanocortin 2 receptor (MC2R) and a gene called WBSCR17 – because they are all involved in how dogs respond to stress.

“Dogs’ social cognitive abilities are thought to have been acquired as a by-product of mutations of the stress response,” says Nagasawa.

After looking at the dogs’ genes, the team gave the animals two tasks to test their interactions with humans.

In the first, the animals were trained to find food hidden under one of two bowls. Each dog was then tasked with determining which bowl had food hidden underneath by looking at an experimenter’s cues.

In the second task, the dogs were trained to open a bin in order to find food inside. Each dog was then presented with the same bin, but this time it couldn’t be forced open. The dog’s behaviour was recorded for 2 minutes, while the team measured the frequency and length of time the animal spent looking at the experimenters.

In the first task, the researchers found that dogs with a specific mutation in the melanocortin-2 receptor gene could more effectively use the experimenter’s cues to choose the correct bowl. In the second task, the researchers found that dogs with another mutation in the melanocortin 2 receptor gene gazed at the experimenter for longer than dogs without this gene variant.

Nagasawa says mutations in the melanocortin 2 receptor gene may have reduced fear and aggression in dogs, leading them to be braver in their approaches to humans.

“We believe that understanding animals that can coexist with humans will provide hints for humans to coexist with… animals of other species,” says Nagasawa.

“Dogs are excellent models to study the genetic basis of complex behaviours and [for] identifying genetic variations that explain the unique human-animal bond,” says Juliane Friedrich at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “The variants identified in this study are further important puzzle pieces to help us to better understand the biological mechanisms underlying this close interspecies bond.”