Ruth Lenahan remembers the feeling she had when she sat down with her friend Kathleen Kane in a political operative’s office in downtown Scranton back in 2011. Kane had been a prosecutor for Lackawanna County for a dozen years, but left in ’07 to raise her two young sons. Now she was restless, and thinking of running for some office. The year before, in 2010, she’d promised to take on a corrupt state senator, Bob Mellow, but was pressured not to by her husband’s family, which owns a large trucking company — taking on Mellow meant risking the loss of a huge state liquor-hauling contract. So she backed out. But now there was a new office to run for, one that seemed to fit her: state attorney general, which, after governor, is the most important elected position in Pennsylvania. And Ruth Lenahan’s feeling about her friend was profound: She was awestruck. Read more »
It seems an unlikely thing to be doing with Lynne Abraham.
On a cool, breezy Friday in New York in December, we’re at the Frick, looking at paintings. Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid is a favorite of hers, and we gaze intently; it depicts a servant handing her lady a letter. Abraham points out the lady’s ambiguous expression, either worry or hope over the letter’s contents, and perhaps the servant has already read it — we don’t know. “Vermeer was a great master of light,” Abraham notes. Sunlight floods the lady’s writing desk and picks out her pearl earring, bathing the moment’s tension. “What’s the message she’s getting?” Read more »
One April morning in 2006, I left a note for Bill Cosby at the back gate of his mansion that commands a five-acre spread in Elkins Park. It was an act of desperation. I was writing a profile of him, and I couldn’t get Cosby to respond to me. Sticking the note in his fence — I didn’t venture past the stern NO TRESPASSING warning to walk down his long driveway and knock on his door — is one of those silly moves writers make so they can say to their editors, “Hey, I tried.”
Then, a couple days later, I got a call.
I’m searching for the good Johnny Doc, the one he wants me to find. The new one.
And here he is, in plain sight, on a cool, partly cloudy morning in early October, sitting quietly on a folding chair near the corner of 12th and Market streets in downtown Philadelphia.
She kept Don inside. His mother wanted him to study. She wouldn’t let him be like them, those other kids who got into trouble. Don rarely saw his father — his parents had separated. So the boy would spend hours in his bedroom in San Francisco, playing endless games with his baseball cards: Dodgers-Giants, over and over. He’d go out into the tiny backyard of their small house near Lake Merced and re-create the ’60 Olympics. With string, he’d make a high jump. A broad jump. A track around the perimeter. That’s how he spent his childhood. In fantasy. Alone.
He did what he was told, and he earned the A’s his mother demanded. She taught piano, at the Conservatory. Sometimes, on her days off, they’d go for drives down the Peninsula together. His brother Arthur was 10 years older, and had gotten into Stanford. Arthur was gone, just like Don’s father. Don was student body president of his high school. He was accepted at Stanford, just like his brother, at 16. He was sure he could make his mother proud.
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A year and a half ago, I flew down to Largo, Florida, and knocked on Bill Conlin’s door. It was early evening, and I couldn’t tell if he was home or not. Nobody came to the door. I thought I heard a TV, though. I knocked again.
Conlin had been the baseball beat writer for the Philadelphia Daily News for two decades, starting in 1966, then wrote a regular column for the DN for an even longer stretch, until the end of 2011. He was the city’s most-read sportswriter, and was nationally known via a long stint on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters as the fat guy waving his coffee cup in high-volume arguments that were often brilliant, or at least amusing. In the summer of 2011, he was inducted into the writers’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
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THREE YEARS AGO, Vince Salandria got a phone call from Arlen Specter, a man he didn’t know. Salandria had been in the Senator’s company only once before, but that was almost a half-century earlier, at a public event. When he called, Specter wasn’t running for anything—he had recently been voted out of office. All he had was a simple request of Salandria, who was 83 years old, a retired Philadelphia school-system lawyer: Would you have lunch with me? They eventually met at the Oyster House, on Sansom Street in Philadelphia. The lunch would turn out to be one of strangest meetings of Salandria’s life.
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In the end—my last moment with Allyson Schwartz, sitting in her office in Washington—she is about to cry. “You’re getting a little emotional, Congresswoman,” I tell her. “Yes,” she says. “So I’m done.” // I laugh—her abruptness is funny, as she intends. But she also means it, that we’re done. I thank her for all the time she’s given me, we say goodbye, and our last interview is over.
Schwartz and I have spent the past half-hour rolling through some things other people have said about her. Normally, talking to Allyson Schwartz produces a torrent of energy and initiatives and ideas. By the time of that last interview, I’d spent hours with her—at a diner in the Northeast; in Pittsburgh, where she logged a day campaigning; and then in the U.S. Capitol. Her vigor and drive, especially, are daunting. There is nothing in the world around her—or, more precisely, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where she is running for governor—that Schwartz doesn’t want to fix.
Judging by Tom Corbett’s popularity, which is in the toilet, many Pennsylvanians will probably like that about Schwartz. Indeed, the governorship is there for the taking, and after a decade in Congress and 14 years before that in the state Senate, Schwartz has decided to take a shot at becoming the first woman to lead our state.
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On the night of April 18th, Detective Brian Peters of the Philadelphia homicide unit saw something strange—something he’d never witnessed before—when he interviewed Herbert Schaible. Herbert’s seven-month-old son, Brandon, had died earlier that evening. Herbert and his wife, Cathy, were brought downtown for questioning from their home in the Northeast.
That was because the Schaibles were already on probation for involuntary manslaughter, following the death of another son, two-year-old Kent, in 2009.
Both boys had died of bacterial pneumonia, which most of the world treats successfully through vaccination or, in the event of an infection, antibiotics. But Herbie and Cathy Schaible are members of First Century Gospel, a nondenominational Baptist church on
G Street in Feltonville that believes strictly in divine healing—meaning no vaccinations, no medicine, no doctors. Prayer, its members believe, and believe fervently, is the path to conquering illness or injury. The members reject many other mainstays of modern life. They don’t believe in home ownership. (Everyone rents.) Or birth control. Or seatbelts. Or eyeglasses. Or college degrees.
None of that was what was strange to Detective Peters, however.
Peters likes to get to know people a bit, make human contact, before the formal interview. And Herbie Schaible, 44, a tall man dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans, with short-cropped hair, was perfectly willing to explain, calmly: Healing occurs through God’s will. Only God’s will could have saved his son. He said this several times, and would repeat it in his statement when he was asked if he regretted not taking Brandon to a doctor. “No, I don’t regret it,” Herbie said, “because we believe that the only way is the right way and that is through God. I would change places with either of my sons. But it’s God’s will. He is the healer of our bodies.”
Cathy Schaible told detective Jimmy Crone the same thing. A small, quiet, deferential woman who wholeheartedly abides by church teaching that her husband is in charge of family decisions, Cathy said, simply, “We pray and ask God to heal … the way Jesus did when He was on Earth.”
But even more surprising than the belief that only answered prayers could heal their son was the demeanor of both Herbie and Cathy. They were low-key. Calm. Very calm. Matter-of-fact, one might say. Peters and Crone have seen a lot of things in their years of talking to suspects and family members of murder victims, but never that.
There was something else Detective Peters had never witnessed: children so well-behaved. Six of the Schaibles’ seven living children—three-year-old Nolan was with his grandmother—had come to police headquarters with their parents. As Herbie and Cathy were questioned, their children sat together on a bench, quietly, and waited for two hours. Seventeen-year-old Herbert, the eldest, was in charge. Peters and Crone had never seen such polite, nice children, obviously well cared-for, brought into a police station.
Nor parents so calm in the face of the sudden death of a child. Their second child to die in four years.
There is an explanation for the attitude that befuddled the detectives. The Schaibles’ relationship with God is, far and away, the most important thing in their lives; everything springs from it. So their faith trumps even their love for their children. The night Brandon died, the outside world—through the legal system, in the questions of the detectives—was asking for an explanation, which placed Herbie and Cathy directly in the place they feel most comfortable: within the dictates of their faith. Why hadn’t they taken Brandon to a doctor even when it was apparent he was quite sick? To our ears, it sounds absurd. In their minds, it’s fundamental: Brandon could only be saved by God’s will.
Not that it has been easy. Later, alone and with family, they would break down and cry, grieving for their second dead son.
And now Herbert and Catherine Schaible face third-degree murder charges, for not getting medical help for Brandon, for letting the pneumonia he developed kill him. Their trial is months away. Herbie is in prison—the judge is worried about him fleeing. Cathy is under house arrest at her parents’ home on Roosevelt Boulevard. Some of the remaining children are being cared for by Herbie’s youngest brother, others by a cousin.
Their family has been torn apart, but the Schaibles remain steadfast in their faith—a faith that if anything, says their pastor, is now stronger. They have prayed for greater understanding. To understand what it is they were doing wrong, what it is that would lead God not to answer their prayers to save Kent, and then Brandon.
The Schaibles’ story, and that of First Century Gospel, is large. Two children are dead. They may be dead because their parents practice a brand of Christianity that seems straight out of the Dark Ages. The D.A., however justified in charging them with murder, is rubbing up against the American founding principle of religious freedom. It is a case that may, in fact, threaten the very existence of their church.
And it’s large because of its strangeness. We want to know how you get here, where Herbie and Cathy Schaible have landed. Not the legal trouble they’re now in—that path is clear enough—but rather, their brand of faith. These two things—being accused of murder and their faith—are firmly intertwined.
It is difficult not to pass judgment, to resist dismissing the Schaibles’ beliefs as flat-out stupid or crazy. But such judgment makes the Schaibles, and their church, impossible to understand.
Late last year, Ron Castille, chief justice of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, decided he couldn’t take it any longer. Seamus McCaffery—one of seven justices on the court, and the only other one from Philadelphia—had been including a certain tag line on emails he sent from his court account. Courtesy of Ernest Hemingway, the tag line read: “Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of a man and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never generally care for anything else thereafter.”
McCaffery, a former Marine, a former Philly cop, a guy who carries a gun and rides a Harley, takes great pride in his toughness. But Castille could no longer abide the bluster, the preening. He himself lost his right leg while serving in Vietnam—on his 23rd birthday, no less—and he was once a hard-ass prosecutor in Philadelphia’s D.A.’s office before becoming D.A. himself. He knew all about toughness.
So last fall, Castille sent McCaffery an email, one on which he cc’d their fellow justices. It read, in part:
Your military service while honorable, did not involve combat action against armed enemy forces as did my service as a Rifle Platoon Commander in the Marines in Vietnam. In fact, I did “hunt” armed men and I can tell you and your email recipients that it is a nasty, dirty business and, while sometimes required by national policy, it is not an activity to be extolled, especially by anyone who does not have the personal experience in the activity.
Castille knew, of course, that sharing his email with the other justices would be highly embarrassing to McCaffery. He didn’t care. His feelings about the man had been building for some time, and their relationship had been deteriorating.
It would soon get worse.
At the end of last year, in a report Castille commissioned about Philadelphia’s corrupt Traffic Court, McCaffery was accused of using his power in an unseemly and perhaps illegal way: He had driven his wife, Lise Rapaport, to Traffic Court on Spring Garden Street for a hearing on a ticket and, while the hearing took place, summoned a top court administrator out to his car for a conversation. Rapaport was found not guilty.
With Ron Castille’s blessing, the Traffic Court report was given to the Inquirer, which did a series of front-page stories on it. Naturally, that didn’t sit well with Seamus McCaffery, who has denied any wrongdoing.
Then a second matter came up. The Inquirer wrote about fees that Rapaport, a Harvard-trained lawyer, received for referring cases to law firms while she was employed by McCaffery as his chief Supreme Court aide. Eleven of the law firms that paid Rapaport—one referral fee was $821,000—have argued cases before the Supreme Court while McCaffery has been on the bench.
When that story broke, Castille—who was first elected to the court in 1993 and has been chief justice since 2008—told reporters he was worried about “conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety.” His opinion wasn’t shocking, but it was an unusual slapdown; chief justices of a Supreme Court almost never publicly rebuke a fellow robesman. What’s more, there was the question of how the Inquirer suddenly landed on the Rapaport referral-fee story when those payments, which McCaffery’s lawyer said were routine and proper, had long been a matter of public record. While Castille denies alerting the paper to the story, he probably was not unhappy that McCaffery was being embarrassed.
In mid-June, McCaffery’s trouble seemed to grow worse. The Inquirer reported that the FBI had opened an investigation into those referral fees his wife received. Meanwhile, the Legal Intelligencer wrote that McCaffery had contacted a high-level Philadelphia Common Pleas administrator last year about civil cases—and that in two of the cases, a law firm that had paid a referral fee to Lise Rapaport was involved. McCaffery’s lawyer says there is no FBI investigation, but Ron Castille told WHYY that he has “no reason to believe the allegations of an FBI investigation against Justice McCaffery are not true.” He added, “So I think if I was Justice McCaffery, I’d start rethinking my position on the Supreme Court.”
We still don’t know how Seamus McCaffery’s problems will play out. But one thing is patently clear: This is war, between Ron and Seamus. It is ugly. McCaffery now actively avoids his chief justice, having as little to do with him as possible. Which is fine by Ron Castille, who seems determined to help get “Famous Seamus,” his nickname for McCaffery, into as much trouble as he can.
According to sources close to the court (more than 50 people were interviewed for this story), the feud is, in part, about power. One of the roles the state Supreme Court plays is to oversee Philadelphia’s judiciary—a job handled by a justice who’s appointed by colleagues as liaison to the First Judicial District. Given his two decades as a Philly cop and his decade on the city’s Municipal Court bench, not to mention his natural bent for schmoozing union guys and City Councilmen with equal aplomb, McCaffery has long seen himself as the perfect guy for that job. Indeed, he’s craved it ever since he was elected to the court in 2007, once telling a court insider that he didn’t run for the Supreme Court to sit in an office and write legal opinions; no, he wanted to oversee Philadelphia’s courts.
But Ron Castille kept the role of liaison for himself even when he became chief justice, though the chief was far too busy for the position. The reason he kept it, McCaffery believes, was to block him from getting it. He’s sure it’s personal.
And he may be right about that, because Ron Castille thinks that “Famous Seamus” is a poseur, a phony, a made-up person. What’s more, Castille believes that McCaffery wants to rule a political fiefdom in Philadelphia. A judge, however—by decree of the state’s ethics code—can’t be involved in politics. He must stay above the fray of raising money for elections, and ward meetings and the like. Especially a justice of the Supreme Court, which oversees all the other courts in Pennsylvania. In a way, that issue, too, is personal between the two men, because Castille the war hero believes fervently in a certain bottom line, in playing by the rules.
And then there is the reputation of the court itself. For decades the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has been something of a joke—a place known for petty squabbles and occasional outright corruption. Earlier this year, justice Joan Orie Melvin resigned after being convicted of using taxpayer resources for campaign purposes. Even Castille himself tarnished the court’s reputation with his bungled handling of the construction of a new Family Court building in Philadelphia.
In Castille’s remaining time as chief justice—he’s required by law to retire next year, when he turns 70, though a federal lawsuit has been filed that would allow him to stay on longer—he seems determined to do everything he can to protect the court’s reputation and, by extension, his own legacy. If that means going to war with Seamus McCaffery, then that’s what Ron Castille is quite willing to do.