In this week's episode:
- Shani Hilton interviews Jessica Garrison about the story of America's bloodiest hitman, El Mano Negra.
- Miriam Elder explains what happened in Israel, North Korea, and more.
- Venessa Wong talks with Mat Honan about whether the new Alexa for kids will replace parents.
- Jane Lytvynenko quizzes Julia Furlan on the week's fake news.
Listen to this week's episode:
Introduction - 00:00
Julia Furlan: Hey everybody! I'm Julia Furlan, and this is The News from BuzzFeed News. This week, we get into some true crime, play a foreign policy game, ask if Alexa is parenting your children, and clear up some fake news. Let's do this.
The Lede - 01:09
JF: BuzzFeed News investigative editor Jessica Garrison has an exclusive investigation into a contract serial killer who confessed to over 30 murders in 12 states.
It's time for The Lede with Shani Hilton.
Shani Hilton: So Jessica, you have been working on this story for two years. Who is Jose Martinez and what was it like talking to him?
Jessica Garrison: Well Jose Martinez is a hit man. He says he's killed 36 people. Many of them murders for hire, some of them simply people that pissed him off. And he also says that many of the people he killed had it coming, because they had hurt women or children. And he has currently pled out to ten murders and is facing trial in Florida on two more, and there are a whole bunch of other murders out there that he says he's committed that are still unsolved.
In talking to him, he is — as I have noticed and as many police officers have noticed--he's a very good listener, he's a pretty good conversationalist, he's funny, he's polite, and it's like talking to anybody else, except that often what you talk about is...him killing people.
TAPE: "I used to pick her from school, I used to play soccer with her. She told me, 'Grandpa, how much you love me?' I say, 'Babe, I give my life for you.'"
SH: When did things start to unravel for him, considering he's been doing this for decades?
JG: So what happened is he killed this gentleman in Alabama, and then he left the state of Alabama, and came back to California, and eventually he went to Mexico.
SH: Oh so he was free and clear. And then what happened?
JG: Well then what happened is that police in Alabama decided to question his granddaughter, and Mr. Martinez loves his grandchildren.
TAPE: "I would do anything for my family. I mean, anything, my life. Whatever they want, I give them. Okay?"
JG: And as he said, he just couldn't bear the idea that they would be subjected to that. And so, he decided to come back. And right around the time he came back, Alabama police filed a murder warrant for him. And he says, "murder warrant, from where?" because there's quite a number of possibilities. And shortly thereafter police from Alabama fly to Arizona and they fly him back to Alabama. And when he gets to Alabama he learns that in fact, there's a second murder he's being looked at seriously, and that comes from Florida. Because in Florida, Mr. Martinez had confessed to committing a murder in 2006.
TAPE: "When I turned around, I had my guns out. 'Motherfucker, hit the floor motherfuckers! And listen good what I tell you. You stole 10 kilos cocaine from me.' He said, 'no it wasn't me.' 'You're lying. If you don't get my money in 30 minutes, I'm going to call my friend that is outside your house and he's going to shoot your family.'" "You got your money?" "I got my money okay. But another guy told me, 'kill 'em." I told him, 'because you're not my boss, I don't even know you, I'm gonna charge you ten thousand dollar for each one.' 'Okay, I don't care, I pay.'"
JG: He left behind a cigarette butt with his DNA on it. And for whatever reason, that DNA was never run or tested and analyzed until 2013. And so right around the time he committed the murder in Alabama, Florida police suddenly got the DNA back with his name. So he gets to Alabama, and there's an Alabama police officer wanting to talk to him about a murder in Alabama, and there's a Florida police officer wanting to talk to him about what his DNA is doing on a cigarette butt at a crime scene from 2006. And he confesses to two murders. Then he says, "you know there are some police officers I'd like to talk to in California," and he starts making confessions in California.
TAPE: "Have you ever heard of Joaquin Berrigan?" "Yeah." "Yeah. They found him dead in a deer creek. Yeah. Well, I done it. Have you ever heard of Santiago Perez?" "Mhm." "Yeah, the man who got shot in his house when he was sleeping." "Mhm." "One block away from the sheriff’s department."
JG: And he tells police, "You know, I killed people all over the country." He names 12 states and you know he tells police a lot about murders that he's committed; there are things he will not tell police.
TAPE: "When you say 'they' hired you ... Who hired you?" "People. I'm not going to give you names." "Okay that's fine." "I got family over there." "They just know you're the person to call?" "I was one of the best."
JG: And so police began investigating the information that they have given him, but they leave a lot of murders unsolved.
SH: So how do you kill 36 people and never get caught?
JG: I mean, I think that's an excellent question. I think that, you know as a detective told me, you know it is possible to get away with murder. People don't do it very often, but it's possible. He was very good at this. He didn't leave very much evidence, he didn't leave witnesses, he was killing people that he had no connection to, so if you come and start looking at the victim's life, you're not gonna see Martinez pop up there very often. And so that's the first answer. And I think the second answer is that he was very often killing people who were you know not among the most powerful people in the world. They were men, they were often drug dealers, they were often people who had criminal records (although not always). And there wasn't a huge, you know rising up of people saying, "these murders must be solved."
SH: Right, and you and I are both very familiar and from kind of the same central part of California, which I think is much less glamorous than what people think of when they think of California. It's a lot of these kind of tiny towns dotted along the 99, and one thing that struck me about this story is that the places really had an effect, to some degree, on what and how these murders were investigated.
JG: Yeah, this is sort of the Other California. It's poor, it's far from the ocean, I'm hard-pressed to think of a single palm tree (there might be one)... They're tiny little towns, they are--in many of them, many of the people who live there are farm workers. And so people kind of come in and out, they follow the crops. It's a very poor place, and it's a place where people don't have a lot of trust in the existing government power structure. And in fact in two of the towns where Mr. Martinez lived, people really were like, you know, "we need more protection from police than we're getting," and so you know it's a very spread out, rural place where you know as one person told me, "this city's got no law."
JF: That was The Lede, with Shani Hilton.
There is so much more in Jessica Garrison's piece on Jose Martinez, and it's all extremely wild. So text JoJo the word "hitman" right now, and the story will come to your phone so that you can read it when you're done with this episode. Thanks JoJo!
What in the World - 08:57
JF: There've been a ton of things happening in international news this week. That's why we have "What in the World," which is where our world news editor Miriam Elder comes by to help sort everything out.
JF: Miriam so today we are going to play a game of 15 Second Foreign Policy, which is where you will hear a short audio clip and tell us what is going on. Okay are you ready?
ME: I'm so ready.
ME: Wow. So, that is a clip from the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. This week, Trump followed through on a campaign promise to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is really controversial because it's still contested between Israelis and Palestinians, and he just dove right into the heart of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
JF: That is correct Miriam! Good job.
JF: And that clip is from the opening statements to the embassy opening in Jerusalem, which was a whole fanfare. Okay, next clip. Here we go.
ME: Okay, these are comments from some officials in North Korea who suddenly made this upcoming summit between Trump and Kim Jong-Un a whole lot more complicated. It seemed like everything was going all hunky-dory, and they were going to have a really nice meeting, and then suddenly, to the surprise of absolutely nobody except for maybe the Trump administration, North Korea started making all these demands like, "wait, we're not gonna get rid of our nuclear weapons, what are you talking about?"
JF: Miriam, you are correct.
JF: I've very glad that you are the person explaining the world to us. And finally, here we go.
ME: So this is a complicated one, but this is an issue that is at the heart of the impending trade war between China and the U.S., which officials in China and the U.S. are working really, really hard to avoid right now. It's all these conversations about tariffs and trade gaps, and this company's ZTE is at the heart of it.
JF: I see. Does it mean that ZTE is going to be, like taxed in the United States or no?
ME: So the whole point is, the Trump administration basically made it so that ZTE can't conduct any business in the U.S. for seven years, but Chinese officials are lobbying his administration really really hard to try to not get this implemented, and Trump seems to have softened his position a little bit, and now everyone's accusing him of being soft on China, soft on national security, so it's a, it's a whole big complicated mess.
JF: And that points us to our final moment, where I'm going to ask you, Miriam Elder, World Editor, Woman About The World, Knowledgable Person, what does this all mean? What do we have to look forward to in the coming weeks and months?
ME: Uh, it means that we have a whole lot of chaos to look forward to. There's a lot of balls in the air right now. And a lot of this depends on other players, so will the North Korea meeting happen? Probably, but maybe not. Will violence continue in Israel? Maybe, maybe not. Will the China trade talks succeed? We have no idea. The problem is that Trump doesn't have a unifying ideology that allows us to kind of see forward and see what his next steps are. So the result is what we've seen for the past year and a few months, which is pure and utter chaos.
JF: Great... Sounds, sounds fun...
ME: It won't be boring.
JF: Thank you so much for playing, I feel like I learned a lot.
ME: It's great to be a winner Julia thank you.
JF: If you're listening to this episode and thinking, "man these people are brilliant and fascinating! I should follow them all on Twitter!" Which is what I always think. Text JoJo "whomst," that's W-H-O-M-S-T, and once you do, JoJo will send you a list of everybody who appeared on this week's episode.
A Robot Took My Job - 13:55
JF: The robots are coming for us. Okay okay, not you, JoJo! But like, the general robots are definitely coming for us. In "A Robot Took My Job," business editor Venessa Wong looks at all the things that robots are doing to make humans obsolete.
Venessa Wong: Amazon's Alexa has a new customer in mind: kids. Alexa will now answer your kids' questions, read children's books on demand, and reinforce good manners. Basically, the kind of stuff that could shape our kids' understanding of the world.
TAPE: "Alexa, what is the word 'embarrassment' mean?"
VW: So have robots taken the job of parents? I called up my boss, Mat Honan, who also happens to be a dad.
Mat Honan: So, this new version of Alexa is designed for kids with things like an explicit lyrics filter for music, it's got very kid-specific answers for questions that sometimes might be weird, you know like 'where do babies come from,' and it's got parental controls so you can limit how much they use it and what they do on it. Uh, both of my daughters are really into Alexa, like here's my younger daughter for example, telling Alexa how she feels:
TAPE: "Alexa, I love you."
MH: And by the way, that audio? That wasn't me recording her, that was the audio from the Alexa app that Amazon recorded.
VW: Let's talk about some of the other functions that Amazon built into the device that will teach your kids manners, that will reinforce certain behaviors, like what, what are some of those.
MH: Like, I have two children and they might start off by saying, "Alexa, play me a Katy Perry song," and then it doesn't understand them, and it's "ALEXA, PLAY ME A KATY PERRY SONG," and it's kind of, it's kind of like, disconcerting, you know? And so one of the things .. it has this thing called magic word now, where it will reward them for saying please like it will thank them for saying please and things like that. There are you know also basically things that it won't answer that you know it might answer on an adult one. Like let me give you an example.
MH: If you were to go and ask Alexa, "where do babies come from?" You know, "how are babies made?" Amazon had thought about this--because these devices are like communal devices anyway--and it would tell you, "I think babies come from the stork," but that's not really a...
VW: Yeah come on Alexa.
MH: Right? You know. And so what this one does, is it, it says, the kids' Alexa says you know, "people make other people, but this is something you should ask your parents about."
MH: There's a lot of stuff in there like that, where instead of directly answering, it tries to redirect you to a parent. But then it also does all the other stuff that Alexas have done that kids embrace. You know it has like, it'll spell words for you, it'll answer basic facts about the world... It's still that robot babysitter that you can stick in your kid's bedroom.
VW: Yeah so tell us about some of those concerns parents might have. Like, you have children; what-how do your children interact with the new Alexa? And how often do they interact with it?
MH: My kids are on Alexa all the time. They use it a lot, they think of it as a part of their lives. They don't remember a time before, you know, they are four and seven. So they're asking it stuff all the time, and they're asking it stuff like, "what's the weather like today? How far is it to New York City?" The kind of questions that anybody might ask. But then they also ask it things like you know, "how do you spell..."
TAPE: "Alexa, how do you spell 'antelope?'" "Alexa, what's 32 minus six?" "How do you spell dreams?"
VW: The deep questions in life.
MH: Right, you know but they ask it sort of basic things that I think, I think you could get an insight into, into where they are developmentally, if you really wanted to. And so Amazon is collecting all of those preferences, right? And that's something that I think parents should think about in terms of privacy. They are giving Amazon the ability to have an insight into your children, as your children are growing up. Now, Amazon has set up some privacy protections. You can purge all the questions, you can purge questions individually, they don't build a back-end profile where they're collecting data on the kids. But it's still worth really thinking about whether or not you want a company being able to collect that kind of data on your kids.
VW: Right, and so how do you feel about your children talking to a robot on a regular basis?
MH: As a parent, it's odd to go in and look and see some of the things that my kids have said to it from time to time.
TAPE: "Alexa, play 'poo poo.'" "No, no, Alexa, stop. I don't want to hear this."
VW: How does growing up with technology like this affect the way your kids will relate to technology?
MH: It's interesting to me how much they take it for granted that something like Alexa is just part of their life, right? They're going to grow up in a a world where there are microphones, speakers, cameras, screens, everywhere. And those microphones and speakers are going to be increasingly sophisticated, they're going to increasingly be able to understand nuance, they're going to increasingly be able to understand desire and preferences. And they're gonna--these personal assistants like Alexa and google assistant are likely going to become these deep agents in their lives who are almost like trusted friends. Or at least that's my, that's my opinion.
VW: So, in the reality where Alexa can teach us, where it can read us books that we want, where it can provide you know limited guidance on certain issues going on in our life and how we feel about ourselves and the world around us, like... do you think that Alexa is in some way taking the job of parents?
MH: I think that like anything else, like iPads or televisions or even in years past radios, we certainly... or, a lot of people I know who are parents are off-loading tasks to Alexa. I will admit that there are times when my daughter will be trying to like, say write a letter to one of her friends, and she'll have asked me for like how to spell three or four different things and sometimes I'll just say, "hey, can you ask Alexa?" And that's probably not the best thing for me to do, but our lives are crazy and we look for help where we can get it when we're parents, and sometimes that means you get them to ask Alexa instead of telling them yourself. You know, is that any different from putting your kids in front of the Saturday morning cartoons for three hours if it's the 1980s? I don't know if one is better or worse, it's just as a parent, you often avail yourself of the tools modern technology provides.
TAPE: "Alexa, add 'diarrhea' to the shopping list!"
JF: to read Matt's write up on Alexa for kids, text JoJo the word "Alexa." Again, their number is (929) 236-9577.
Fake News You Can Use - 21:02
JF: Internet bullshit is rampant. Which is why we need to make sure we're aware of it! It's time for "Fake News You Can Use," where our Fake News Debunker in Chief Jane Lytvynenko quizzes me on what's real, what's fake, and what you can do about it.
Hi Jane! How is the fake news landscape today?
JL: Hi! It is a junkyard, everything is still bad.
JF: Okay, so what have you got for me today?
JL: Alright, so I have three questions for you. So the first question is based on this tweet that went low key viral. And in the screenshot it says that James Blunt, the noted singer, when he was fighting the war in Kosovo, he refused a command that essentially didn't escalate the war further.
JF: Wow. I think that that's true because I also recently heard that James Blunt was really good friends with Carrie Fisher and I feel like he has had a storied and wild life, and I want to believe that it's true, so I'm going to say it's true.
JL: You are correct! It is true.
JL: So the paragraph that was tweeted out that everybody was kind of shocked by, it came from the New York Times, so a reliable source, and James Blunt actually talked about this in a BBC interview a while back--maybe like a decade ago or something--so it's a well-known fact, or at least it's a fact that's been out there for a while, but I was pretty shocked. I had to fact check this right away.
Okay, so the second question I have for you is about a viral challenge. So it is a new viral challenge called the deodorant challenge sweeping schools and playgrounds. And alongside this headline you see a facebook post with what looks like an arm with some burns on it.
JF: I think that this is fake. Because I think it's the kind of thing that people want to believe, like, "the teens are at it again!" But unlike Tide Pods, this doesn't seem like a real thing.
JL: You are correct! That's two for two
JF: Oh my gosh!
JL: Congratulations! So yeah this is another one of those things where maybe something happened, maybe it didn't, but to say that it's viral, and that it's huge, and that it's the latest trend, is incredibly misleading. And a couple of publications have actually run with that. But we saw this with the condom challenge for example, about a month ago, where a teen would snort a condom and it would come out the other nostril.
JF: That's so disgusting.
JL: That was a thing that happened a few years ago, but it was by no means the next Tide Pod.
JF: Okay I'm two for two. What've we got next?
JL: Okay number three--this is the newsy one. Trump's trade policy called a Harley Davidson factory in Missouri to fire hundreds of workers and move to Thailand. Is that real or fake?
JF: I'm going to say that this is fake because Harley Davidson is the kind of brand that I think is so rooted in Americanness, so I'm going to say this sounds real, but it is fake.
JL: So you are... three for three! Congratulations!
JF: Oh my god! Wow, wow! What an honor.
JL: This is a good day for you. So the truth is that yes, Harley Davidson is closing a factory and moving it to Thailand, but it is not because of the transpacific partnership trade agreement, or anything along those lines. They said that they had about an 8.5% drop in sales last year, and they are moving--what a spokesperson said--was a need to address excess capacity in the U.S. So it seems like it was a financial decision long time coming, and it has nothing to do with Trump's TPP stance.
JF: Okay, wow. I feel the shiny light of truth all over me right now. It's so good. And because this is Fake News You Can Use, you also have some advice for our listeners about what they can do to avoid fake news. What've you got for us?
JL: I do! It's a scary, scary internet world out there, so the one tip that I wanted to give this week is to pay closer attention to the website where you're reading something. So a lot of the times the people who write fake news or junk news, they make websites really quickly, they put a bunch of ads on them, and the entire point is to get you to click on them, so that the ad dollars come in. Now the way to tell if you're looking at a website like this is to check whether it has an about page that seems reliable, whether it has a 'contact us' page that is detailed, and what are the other stories on the website? so for example if you just click on the home page and you see a bunch of other junk or garbage related to partisan politics or health news or what have you, chances are it's not a real publication. It's not a publication that fact checks, it's not a publication that really cares about its sourcing. So if you did end up on a site like this, just think twice before sharing anything from it.
JF: So to recap, your tips are to check the about page for any website, look at the other things that the website is publishing to make sure they're not also fake news, and go to the contact us page and make sure that it's fully filled out, right?
JL: There ya go, that's the anti-junk news site trifecta. With those three things you can pretty much tell whether somebody's trying to make money off of your attention and maybe think about not sharing what you read there.
JF: Ugh, awesome.
JF: If you want to try out Jane's fake news quiz for yourself, just text JoJo the word "quiz." Again, their number is (929) 236-9577. I don't want to brag, but I did pretty well this week, so I hope you do too.