Book review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, by Michelle McNamara. Harper 2018.


Michelle McNamara was a dedicated woman. After becoming hooked on the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker case in 2007 (incidentally, the same year I discovered it) she dedicated years and years to amateur sleuthing it. After her sad, sudden death in 2016 at the age of only 46, her relatives went through her computer, and discovered literally thousands of files related to the case. Photos, maps, lists of items missing from crime scenes, lists of potential suspects etc. She had conducted a personal investigation to the creepy serial killer, aided by her trusty co-researchers on Internet’s true crime message boards.

The fruit of that investigation is this book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, her take on the decades-old case, arguably the most anticipated true crime book of 2018. She started writing it some years ago, but sadly, never finished her magnum opus; the rest of the book has been constructed from her notes and previous writings.

In case you don’t know, the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker (currently known as the “Golden State Killer”, a moniker coined by McNamara) was a rapist and serial killer active from 1976 to 1986. He raped dozens of women before becoming a serial killer and murdering at least 12 people. After killing his last victim Janelle Lisa Cruz in 1986, he suddenly disappeared. His identity remains unknown.

McNamara weaves her tale into two threads that run parallel to each other: the story of a rapist/serial killer and his victims, and her own story of trying to put the pieces together as an amateur detective several decades later. In my opinion, she succeeds better with the latter part. To be honest, McNamara was so deeply invested in and knowledgeable on the GSK that the book never really feels like it was written for a “newbie”, the casual “Sunday detective”, but rather for her fellow sleuths already knee-deep obsessed with this case.

Nevertheless, the story of the GSK is morbidly fascinating in itself, and McNamara’s telling of it is sufficient enough in conveying the basic facts for the unfamiliar reader. A serial offender struck again and again, the police detectives were at a loss as to what to do, the neighborhoods the man struck in were terrified, and so on. However, this story has been told before – see, for example, Larry Crompton’s Sudden Terror or Richard Shelby’s Hunting a Psychopath. The basic narrative of the events as they happened is conveyed much better in these two works, not because the writers are better (McNamara was the best writer ever to have put together a book about these events), but because the authors were cops who were involved in the original investigation, and witnessed the killer’s rampage first hand.

The true strengths of IBGD are revealed once McNamara hits the streets and starts talking to witnesses and detectives. Details and theories emerge that are new even to the most dedicated amateur sleuth, and the author’s relentless quest to name the killer produces some genuinely memorable scenes. McNamara appears to have had an uncanny ability to get people to talk about things they would perhaps otherwise keep a secret, a necessary ability for someone looking to write a fresh book about a decades-old cold case. (The plane connection is especially titillating.) We also get to witness the efforts of a mom and professional career woman trying to balance her normal life with a dark obsession, a subject McNamara excels in writing about.

The book ends with a heartbreaking afterword from comedian and actor Patton Oswalt, McNamara’s husband, who was left to care for their daughter alone after Michelle’s passing.

If the author had lived long enough to finish her book from the start to the finish, perhaps we would have a more balanced work. However, as it is, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark will most likely live on as a vital, very interesting resource for those of us who, like McNamara herself, have been following this case for years. The book also provides a moment of comforting peer support to those of us who spend hours upon hours digging up files on old, cold cases, while our friends and relatives wonder what the hell we’re up to.

Despite this aforementioned emphasis on serving more experienced readers (whether intended or unintended), I can recommend this book to anyone interested in the case. However, I also recommend that you read through Shelby’s and Crompton’s books first, or dive in at the deep end by picking up and reading a copy of the massive Case Files of the East Area Rapist by Kat Winters and Keith Komos before opening IBGD.

Rest in peace, Michelle McNamara. One day, the Golden State Killer will be named, and you will have played a vital part in the process that led to his capture.

My Adventure in Hypnosis


Ever since its inception, there has been a mysterious allure to hypnosis. The idea that our feeble minds can be so overtly bended to the will of a skillful manipulator is a fascinating antidote to the fantasies we sometimes entertain of the omnipotence of the human mind. A few minutes of the correct words spoken in a soulful tone, a snap of the fingers, and shazaam – you’re hypnotized!

In the past few decades, hypnosis has gained a whole new aspect to its public image through its use in criminal investigations. In Finland, the hypnosis-as-crime-solving-tool theme is most widely associated with the infamous Lake Bodom massacre. In investigating the brutal triple murder, the police employed the expertise of psychologists and psychiatrists trained in the use of hypnosis, who placed the sole survivor of the bloodbath in a trance in order to yield a description of the killer.

This being the case, it probably comes as no surprise to You, my dear readers, that I, too, have entertained a fascination with hypnosis since I was a kid. Hence, you could say it was about time I tried it myself.

I set out looking for the right person through good ol’ Google. I emailed a few hypnotists, asking them if they’d be interested in hypnotizing me just for the sake of hypnotizing me, so that I could try what it’s like and produce a piece about my experiences for this blog.

Most of them didn’t respond at all. One responded by saying she considered hypnosis too serious a business to be used just for show (LOL!). But then I received a positive response from a wonderful, polite man named Henri Valkama.

Mr. Valkama agreed to see me, and even said yes to an interview! “Fantastico!” I thought to myself, immediately feeling embarrassed for expressing my inner joy with a word straight out of the mouth of Fonzie from Happy Days. After a brief battle with our busy work schedules we ultimately found a time and committed to it.

On the 24th of January I made my way to Henri’s office, expecting the door to be opened by a creepy-looking guy wearing a black top hat and sporting a thin moustache, shooting an intense stare at me.  Instead, I was greeted by a super nice, normal-looking guy who welcomed me warmly with a handshake and a smile. I suspect he’s used to stereotypes about magician-like hypnotists, and wanted to break the false image right at the start.


He asked me to sit down in a big, comfortable leather recliner situated in the corner of a small office with a computer, a dresser, and a bookshelf. The room liked exactly like any IT engineer’s or salesman’s office, except for one small detail: on the wall above the dresser was a picture of a seascape at sunset, and above it, painted on the wall, was that classic optical illusion with the spirals closing in towards a focal point.

After an informal and pleasant chit-chat about hypnosis in popular culture (Paul McKenna’s TV show, movies featuring hypnotists etc.) we decided to do the interview first.

How does one end up being a hypnotist?

Ever since I was a kid I was always interested in how the human mind functions, especially in terms of something like hypnosis: how is the state of hypnosis created? What can be achieved with it? etc. But hypnosis is my second job: my primary job is in information technology. Hypnosis is a dear hobby for the most part.

In a nutshell, what is hypnosis? How would you explain it to someone who with only a basic knowledge of psychology?

It’s simply an altered state of consciousness. Under hypnosis your mind is more receptive than it is in any other state. It’s almost a kind of child-like state: if I tell you you can’t lift your foot, you can’t lift your foot. Consciously you say to yourself “I will lift my foot!”, but your subconscious prevents this from happening while you’re hypnotized.

How was hypnosis “invented”, or “discovered”? What are the earliest records of it being used?

There are traces of it being used hundreds of years ago. And of course Freud famously used it with his patients, and so on. The origin of hypnosis can be traced to efforts of achieving a highly concentrated state of mind. Plus you have to take into account hypnosis-like states as well: for example, you might be reading a book so intensely that you don’t even hear if someone calls out your name right next to you. This is a kind of hypnotic state as well. Professional hypnosis therapy aims at creating this intense state of concentration and using it for something healing and positive.

Let’s say I’m a student with an important exam in the horizon. Can I use hypnosis to induce some kind of a state of consciousness where I have a photographic memory of every single page in the book I need to read for the exam?

In such a situation, you can use hypnosis to intensify your concentration and to be less stressed out, but you cannot create a state of mind where you have a super-memory like that, no.

Can a person be hypnotized against his/her will?

No, nobody can be hypnotized against their will. You can do some “tricks” to anyone’s mind, but you can’t actually hypnotize anyone forcefully. But then, in terms of the people who have actually willingly come to my practice, I’ve never had a customer I haven’t been able to hypnotize at all.

What do you think about people like Derren Brown and other “mentalists”?

I’m sure that what happens in those shows is indeed true, but the regular people who appear in those stage shows and TV shows have been chosen based on how easily they can be hypnotized. They do a kind of sensitivity test to the people in the audience of, say, a TV show, then pick the ones who respond to commands most easily.

Can one hypnotize oneself?

Well, in a way all hypnosis is self-hypnosis: I don’t create the altered state of consciousness in your mind – you do! I just lead the process to the right direction. So yes, you can hypnotize yourself. Having a hypnotist present usually makes inducing the hypnotized state of mind more easy, though, because if you do it to yourself, you might find it hard to let go of the conscious control of your mind.

Classic question: can a person be hypnotized to, say, rob a bank?

No, it’s not possible. There was a doctoral dissertation done about hypnosis recently where the research included giving hypnotized people a glass of water and saying it was burning acid, then telling the hypnotized subject to throw the “acid” in someone’s face. Not a single research subject followed the command.

For example, when you see these people in TV shows doing funny things on stage under hypnosis, the people doing those funny things have to be, on some level, “game” for doing those things anyways; you can’t hypnotize anyone to change their core values and personality.

In the 1960s the CIA attempted to create a “Manchurian Candidate”, a kind of sleeper agent who lives a normal life, but upon receiving some coded command will, for example, assassinate a politician. Have you heard of these experiments? What are your thoughts?

I’ve read about such experiments, but again, it takes way more than just hypnosis to create something like that. I don’t believe the experiments were successful.

The plot of a movie called Office Space has a bored office worker go to a hypnotist and ask him to put him in a state of mind where he essentially forgets about his work day when he comes home from his job in the evening. Is this possible?

(laugh) You can’t be hypnotized to actually forget about your work day, but hypnosis can be used to alleviate the irritation caused by, for example, a boring job you don’t like. The same logic applies also in, let’s say, alleviating the traumatic memories of a car crash: hypnosis can’t make you forget about the incident, but it can take the edge of the pain caused by the memory, and make it easier for you to take up driving again.

What do you think about the use of hypnosis in criminal investigation? Making witnesses remember things more clearly, etc.

If we talk about someone who has simply been a witness to an event, I believe hypnosis can be of use, and can be trusted. If someone has seen a suspicious car on the night of an event, and the police need him to remember a license plate or something, hypnosis can be a good tool. But in terms of hypnotizing someone with the intention of determining whether that person is guilty of a crime or not, no, hypnosis does not work as a truth serum. The Lake Bodom murder case is a good example: I think the material yielded from suspect Nils Gustafsson under hypnosis is useless in terms of establishing whether he committed the crimes or not.

Some of the so-called “alien abduction” researchers use hypnosis as a tool to supposedly “retrieve” hidden memories that are seemingly of ordinary events, but are really hidden memories of being abducted by aliens. What do you think about these research methods?

I don’t believe in that at all. Another such suspicious use of hypnosis occurs in the study of “past lives”. Some believe that a person can be hypnotized to remember their previous lives.


(“Alien abduction” researcher Budd Hopkins in a hypnosis session with an “abductee”)

How about planting false memories. Can you use hypnosis to make me have “memories” of fighting in World War II?

Well, if for some reason you yourself have a strong belief that you fought in WW2, hypnosis can be used to amplify such false memories.

This needs to be remembered also in the case of that aforementioned alien abduction research: if you believe you’ve been abducted and the hypnotist goes along with your beliefs, your fantasies will only get stronger.

How does the therapeutic aspect of hypnosis function?

Hypnosis gives you a more direct access to a customer’s emotions, to their raw experiences, which makes it easier to work on their mind. If a person needs therapy for, let’s say, a fear of flying and you simply start talking to that person about how safe flying really is, how you shouldn’t be afraid and so on, you’ve got a long road ahead of you. With hypnosis, you can access that part of the customer’s mind that fears the plane and the take-off, and implement therapeutic measures directly to that raw emotion. Under deep hypnosis, your mind believes that an image it conjures up is real; the same parts of the brain are activated as in real life when you encounter the real event that image represents. So you can work on, to use the previous example, that fear of flying by having the customer “walk into” a plane, and prepare their brain not to go into fear mode when they actually, physically enter an airplane.

I’ve heard of a lot of people quitting smoking through hypnosis. What is the effect of hypnosis based on here?

The effect is based on amplifying the impression of smoking as dangerous and repulsive in the customer’s subconscious. Once that’s achieved, the desire to smoke is less intense, as the subconscious “warns” the smoker of the effects of cigarettes. Alternatively, suggestions and imagery used in hypnosis can focus on the benefits of smoking cessation and thereby strengthen the motivation for smoking cessation.

Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t ask about?

Well, I’d just like to say that when I started this, I too was mystified by the unknown aspects of hypnosis, the mysterious nature of it. But now, I see hypnosis as way more logical and natural. Having done this as a second job for years, I see hypnosis less as a mystery and more as a tool in creating better mental health to the world.

Once we’re done with the interview, it’s time to get to the hypnosis. Valkama asks me if there is any specific thing I would like to achieve with this session.

There is, actually. I have a vague memory from childhood I have always wanted to examine.

I was in daycare at an old couple’s home for a while before being put in a kindergarten. One day, as I was playing with friends in a nearby forest, we came across the husband of the old couple laying on the ground in the middle of a winter forest, shaking, with blood coming out of his nose. We ran inside the house and told the old woman that her husband was in the forest, bleeding. Help reached the man in time, and he lived for a few more years.

My child’s mind never really understood how serious a situation this was – I remember thinking he had just slipped and fell, and needed a hand in getting up. Of course, for an old man like him, it may actually have been a brush with that distant, faraway though that rarely passes a child’s mind – death.

I tell Henri about this memory and ask him to take me there once I’m under hypnosis.


We begin with Henri testing me to see how susceptible I am to hypnosis (Finnish “suggestioherkkyys”, “sensitivity to suggestion”).

I sit down on a comfortable chair, and Henri tells me to extend my right hand, then hands me a pendant.

“Hold the pendant from the top and let it hang from your hand. Keep your hand absolutely steady! Now, imagine the shape of a circle in your head. That’s it. Now, imagine the shape of the circle being transferred from your head to your hand, but don’t move your hand.”

The bottom-end of the pendant starts to move in a small circle. I swear, I’m not doing that motion with my hand – I’m consciously trying to hold my hand 100 percent steady! We repeat the same thing with other shapes (back-and-forth. up-and-down etc), and each time my subconscious creates the motion Henri describes without my hand physically moving. I immediately think about those ouija board sessions I’ve seen on YouTube, with the pointer supposedly being “moved” by a ghost…

I think most people would like to think that they’re not susceptible at all, but alas, it turns out I’m VERY susceptible – one of those folks Derren Brown or Paul McKenna would immediately choose to do stupid tricks on stage… dammit.

After these preliminary tests, Henri tells me to make myself comfortable on the recliner – it’s time to get hypnotized.

He tells me to stare at that classic hypnosis symbol on the wall, that optical illusion with the spirals.

“Don’t worry if your mind wanders – just bring it back to the topic at hand if that happens.”

This is comforting advice, as I’m an extremely restless person by nature, my mind going on full speed 24/7, and I was worried beforehand if I would be able to relax and concentrate in a situation like this.

“Now take long breaths in – out – in – out. That way your system will automatically begin to calm down and relax. Good. Now you can feel your body beginning to relax and your mind becoming more and more receptive to my words – you can physically FEEL my words taking effect on your body. Your mind is losing its resistance to relaxation, and you begin to accept my words as guidance. Good. Relax, breathe in and out, just concentrate on breathing. As you breathe, your eyelids get heavy and begin to close…”

To my surprise I can actually feel myself relaxing. The first wall has been cracked: Henri is indeed able to make me relax in an unfamiliar setting after an intense work day. My eyelids become heavy, and the image of the spiral on the wall is getting blurrier and blurrier…

“Now at this point, I want you to concentrate on your feet. You can feel a wave of peace and relaxation go through your body, starting from your feet and going upwards all the way to your head, your hands, your eyes, your shoulders, your back… you can feel a relaxing warmth everywhere in your body.”

I feel warm and safe, both physically and mentally, and I let my mind go completely.

“Now I am going to count down from ten, and when I reach the number one, you will be in a hypnosis, and everything I say will have a strong effect on your mind. 10….9….8…..7….. you can feel all the sounds around you disappearing… 6….5…. you get more and more relaxed, and your conscious mind begins to fade… 4….3….. you get more and more safe and relaxed…. 2…. and when I say the next number, you will be hypnotized…. one.”

The final stage of hypnosis kicks in, and it feels like this: imagine a super-intense daydreaming session, and how your mind feels in such a state. That’s basically how it feels: you’re not really asleep, but not awake either – this is something in between. Everything Henri told me in the interview feels right: I would not be susceptible to, say, robbing a bank, nor am I in a state where I would divulge my deepest, darkest secrets; I am, to an extent, still in control of my capacities. However, at the same time, I am open to suggestions and commands from Henri. If he told me to jump up from the chair and scream “Viva la Revolucion!”, I would do it, for some reason.

“Now I want you to conjure up an image in your mind of a place where you feel particularly safe and secure. You can see yourself in that place, even sense some of the smells and sensations you associate with that place. Good. Now I want you to sort of jump into your own body as you are in that safe place, and actually feel yourself entering that safe place where you feel more comfortable and good than anywhere else in the world. Nod your head if you can feel yourself in that safe place now.”

I nod my head. I imagine myself in my bed in the evening, reading or writing or watching a movie on my computer. This will be my “safe place” for all intents and purposes.

“In a moment, I’m going to ask you to lift up your right leg, but you will find yourself unable to do so. The leg is as though it’s welded onto the chair; it simply will not move. Now go for it, try to lift it!”

Won’t move an inch. It’s… well, like it’s indeed welded onto the recliner.

“Good. Now go back to your safe place, and let’s spend a few more moments in there feeling warm and relaxed. Now, Teemu, from now on you will be able to relax a bit more in your normal life as well: you will no longer feel stressed anymore when you’re at home – instead, it will be easier for you to calm your mind.”

This is also something I asked Henri to do: to induce in me a deeper sense of relaxation after I come from work a demanding job.

After this, we start to work towards that childhood memory I asked Henri to take me back to.

“Now, we’re going to conjure up some images and take a bit of a journey back in time. While we do this, you will, at any point your choose, be able to go back to your safe place; at any moment, you can return if you feel uncomfortable. You can now feel time rolling backwards, backwards and backwards, until you find yourself around the age of 5. A winter landscape opens up around you, you’re in the countryside, the ground is white with snow. You can sense smells around you, sense the cold air on your skin, perhaps you can even remember what you were wearing…”

As Henri says this, something crazy happens – I remember EXACTLY the clothes I was wearing that day! Especially the children’s gloves I had on, purple in color, with an extended part of canvas that went far up the arm. Amazing.

“You can see your friends around you. You’re playing in the yard, and you decide to head to the familiar patch of woods you always play in.”

I can see myself moving closer towards the woods until I’m surrounded by the trees and snow. Again, the memory is much more vivid and “close” than it is if I was simply thinking back to it without hypnosis.

“Now, you and your friends are moving across the forest, playing and having fun. As you go on walking and running, you see something on the ground. As you get closer you realize it’s a human, and as you get yet closer, finally you can see that it’s the husband of the daycare lady, laying on the ground, hurt. Remember, even as all of this is happening, you still feel safe and warm, not afraid.”

I can see the old man clearly in my mind. He’s on the ground next to a tree, on his side, blood coming out of his nose, his eyes closed tightly in pain, his breathing uneven and difficult. I now understand, as an adult, that he’s clearly having a heart attack. I can see myself and my friends run towards the house, telling the old lady who runs the daycare what we’ve seen.

“Now, at your own pace, when you’re finished, you retreat from the situation, away from this memory and back to your safe place. The memory ends with a happy ending: the old man is saved, he lives on, and so do you.”

The winter landscape fades away, my mind goes blank for a while, then I’m back in that safe place, in my bed in the light of a night table lamp.

“Good. Now, as we work through this hypnosis session, your state of consciousness will once again alter and get deeper. I’m now going to ask you to count down from 300 by subtracting three at a time – 297, 294, et cetera. But as you go on, you will find the task getting more and more difficult with each subtraction. You forget the numbers, they become a blur in your mind…”

At this point I get a clear image in my mind of a chain that leads down a well: I can see the beginning portion, but the further down I look, the more the chain is covered by the darkness of the well until I can only see dark. Counting down the numbers is very, very difficult, I can’t think clearly, and I finally give up. I can feel myself going deeper in my trance.

“At this point in your hypnosis my voice sort of loses coherence, and it sounds like a pleasant background noise, but you don’t recognize it as a human voice – it fades into the wider tapestry of your mind, and you simply understand what I’m saying without noticing my voice. You will not remember what I say for the next few minutes after you wake up, but my words subconsciously help you relax in your future, to wind down easier after you’re done with your daily responsibilities.”

Henri then feeds positive concepts and ideas into my mind, related to taking it easier, not assuming too much responsibility, enjoying relaxing at home more, et cetera. This is the final stage of our session; after this, it’s time to “come back”.

“At this point, you attention comes back to my voice, and you can hear it clearly again. I’m going to start counting up from the number 1, and when I reach the number 10, you will be back to your waking state. 1… you’re slowly coming out of your trance, still feeling good and relaxed… 2….3…. you’re waking up, little by little, and all kinds of unnecessary fatigue is leaving your body…4….5…..6… and you’re becoming very aware of you surroundings, of time and space..7…..8…. you’re almost at the point of waking up…. 9….. and when I say the next number, you will be fully awake….10.”

I open my eyes, and am fully awake. I feel refreshed, invigorated, and happy that I went through with this extremely interesting experience.

Afterwards Henri and I discuss the session for a bit. I tell him that the memory he took me to was way more vivid than I had imagined it would be; it was almost as though I was there! This is usual for him, obviously, but I’m amazed. While the memory has never been traumatic or actively bothered me really, I feel happy to have re-visited it. The memory is more sad than anything else, as I felt I was unable to help the poor old man. It was also among my first brushes with human mortality. I’m glad I was “there” once again, now as a grown man with life experiences of my own, but I’m also glad I was able to leave once the image conjured up during my hypnosis faded out.

Things I learned:

  1. I’m even more of a skeptic regarding the use of hypnosis in bringing up supposedly “hidden” memories. Hypnosis is much more of a conscious effort than most people probably imagine.
  2. I’m 100 percent certain hypnosis can indeed be used to make witnesses in, for example, crime cases remember details their conscious minds have forgotten. I’m certain Henri could have made me remember the license plate of our family car from when I was five years old.

While there is nothing particularly mysterious about hypnosis, I strongly recommend trying it to anyone with an interest in the human mind. It wasn’t a psychedelic, life-changing experience, but then, that’s not the point – we are rarely changed by huge individual events; the process of growing and maturing is made up of smaller, more numerous experiences.

Experiences like seeing an old man fighting for his life in the forest as a little boy, or experiences like trying hypnosis as a grown man.







Interview with Anne Penn, author of Murder on His Mind.

Anne Penn is the pen name of Laurie, a woman with a personal connection to the East Area Rapist / Original Night Stalker case. She has written a book about the case entitled Murder on His Mind.

Thank you Laurie for this interview!


Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself?

I am Laurie. I am also Anne Penn the author of a first and second edition book called Murder On His Mind Serial Killer.  The second edition I added “A Family Member Speaks.”  Anne is my pen name of course.  I am the granddaughter of Lyman J. Smith Senior the father of murder victim Lyman Robert Smith and his wife Charlene Smith.   They were killed March 13, 1980.

My family are longtime Sacramento, CA natives. I grew up in Sacramento, a mile away from my grandparents near Land Park, spending quite a lot of time with them over 35-40 years. I was born at Mather Air Force Base and grew up in the same home for 18 years. I was in Sacramento beginning my career 1976-1978 in downtown Sacramento when the East Area Rapist began his crimes breaking into homes and raping women.

In your own words, who was the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer? What do the terms refer to?

The East Area Rapist was a man who came into my awareness from news reports and people talking about him in 1976. People were saying he was breaking in and attacking women, raping them in East Sacramento. Back then I was made more aware that I should be careful. The reports about him made me think twice about everything I did.  The East Area Rapist was a man to be feared and he was the worst thing I could think of – the idea of being intruded upon and raped was very terrifying. Everyone was worried because it went on for two years. Nerve racking. I do not call him The Golden State Killer. To me and most people that knew of him then (when the murders began) he was known as The Original Night Stalker. Most people who have lived with this case for 35 years or more know that name.

The Original Night Stalker was a person’s worst nightmare. He did not care if he broke in to homes with couples. He began to break in and rather than rape, ransack and leave he began to murder. I would say what those names mean to me is a man who was a terrorist in the truest sense of the word.

You have a personal connection to his crimes. Can you tell us about this?

My connection to the events of EAR and ONS was that I was there in Sacramento when this terrorist began and then less than two years after he left Sacramento attacking elsewhere my Uncle (we called him Bob) Lyman Robert and his wife Charlene were murdered in Ventura, CA.

At the time no one knew that his activity was connected to the East Area Rapist and that he had indeed become a serial killer. That was not proven until many years later through DNA evidence that was tested from the very old crimes. When my uncle and his wife were murdered I was there after my grandparents were told and saw how devastated my grandfather Lyman Senior was at the loss of his son. He was very proud of Uncle Bob and was never the same after that. Just a few weeks after the memorial service for my Uncle I was married in Auburn in an old church there.

As I was walking back up the isle having just been married I realized that my grandparents were in the vestibule of the church where my grandfather was sobbing and sobbing. No one could console him, we could think of nothing we could do. It had only been about 7 weeks since he had learned of his son’s murder. He had not wanted me to postpone my wedding and had insisted he and my grandmother would come as scheduled and would not miss it. My close friends recall the scene to this day 37 years later.


(Lyman and Charlene Smith)

How did these crimes affect your family?

The murders affected my grandparents of course. These were horrific murders and the idea that they had been killed in this way was difficult to say the least to come to terms with. I personally was absolutely terrified at hearing the details of how The Original Night Stalker had come into my Uncles home and that he had bludgeoned them both to death. I was afraid from that moment on of sliding glass doors and strangers, work men. I did not want to be seen in my yard or at night in my car. My grandparents were frustrated at the lack of answers and upset that law enforcement went down the wrong path to find their son’s killer.

I moved away from Sacramento in 1984 because I did not feel safe.

What was it like to live in fear of this criminal? What kinds of precautions did people in your area take against him? I have read that burglar alarm systems and personal firearms sold like crazy…

People in the area in Sacramento during the crimes of EAR bought locks and guns and held town hall meetings in order to talk about safety measures.  Classes were held for women to instruct them on many different avenues to try to stay safe.  Personal safety measure like alarms were installed, but it seemed the East Area Rapist could get around all of it and still was not caught.


(Newspaper article from the 1970s)

The East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer has recently gained new momentum after decades of being known only to relatively few true crime aficionados. Why now?

It is time to try to resolve the case especially since we have new technologies and advances in testing evidence. DNA linked all of the crimes together in about 2001.  Santa Barbara County finally had their DNA tested about 6 years ago so we then knew the Original Night Stalker had killed at least 10 people and was in fact the East Area Rapist. Chances are good that he is still alive. The detectives that worked the cases in the beginning many are still with us and still want to see justice.

Let’s talk about the criminal himself for a second. What, in your opinion, was the driving force behind this guy’s intense need to rape and kill?

He like other guys who start out as peepers and burglars escalated to rape and then serial rape/killer.  I think he was always different and between his childhood issues and whatever makes a serial killer (a chemical brain issue) personality disorder like Anti-Social Personality disorders and/or Conduct Disorder I think he was compelled to do what he did. He had to work up to it.

In your opinion, what kind of a person was he outside his criminal activity? A transient? A middle-class family guy?

I do not think he was ever a transient. I think he became a middle class family guy after the crimes stopped. I think he is successful and functions very well in society.

This guy would occasionally tell his victims about his life, and a few times he was even heard crying and repeating either the name “Bonnie” or the word “mommy”. How much of his behavior at crime scenes do you think was genuine and how much of it was a ploy to create red herrings for the investigators?

I think that a lot of the time during his crimes when he was telling his victims supposedly about himself he was trying to lead investigators wherever he wanted them. He was smart enough to play everyone.  I think much of his behavior at crime scenes was a ploy to manipulate his victims and law enforcement.

How reliable do you think the composite sketches are? Which one do you think is the most reliable?

I don’t rely on the composite sketches. Law Enforcement knows that they came from people who thought they saw a guy lingering in areas during crimes.  Victims never saw his face. I was told the one the FBI is using currently is the one they are looking at now.


(FBI composite sketch of the perpetrator)

Some drawings and writings were discovered near one of his crime scenes. What are your thoughts on these?

I hope the writings and drawings are from EAR. I do not know enough about them.  It would seem they would have tested them for fingerprints long ago.  It is thought that the landscape area drawing could be from an area in Stockton.  Others think it is from other areas.

It seems someone fitting the EAR/GSK’s description was spotted driving various different cars around the areas where attacks would soon occur. Where did he gain access to all these different cars? I have often felt that this is one of the key issues in the case, a potential “case-cracker”.

I wish I knew where he gained access to all of the various cars he drove. It could be a friend or family member had a car lot.

Was hypnosis ever used in this investigation to jolt people’s memories?

Hypnosis was used to try to get better descriptions and any information they could.

Why did he choose Janelle Lisa Cruz as his final victim? WHy did he come out of hiding to kill her?

I think he came out of hiding because he could not resist and it was easy.  He already knew the neighborhood from 5 years earlier. Manuela Witthuhn had been murdered in 1981 less than 2 miles away. I also think he had seen the Deliberate Stranger about Ted Bundy on television that night and he just had to do this one last time that we know of.

What do you think happened to him? Why did he disappear?

I think he knew about the advances in forensic technology and knew if he kept going he might be caught. He also likely got married and had children. This way he can become a legend and become a mystery for all time like the Black Dahlia murder.  People are still interested today.  He will be famous as the serial killer who they never found. He wanted fame and he will have it whether he is ever caught or not.

You wrote a book about this case. Tell us about it! What was it like to research and write it?

This was a book I had NEVER thought about writing because it was still too terrifying to look at it. Eventually it became the book I had to write because I had been studying serial killers since 1980. It made the most sense to me that my uncle Lyman and Charlene’s murders were a serial killer and not someone they had known and then it turned out to be true. I could not believe it when I found out.  I was right about that.  I sought to understand why a person does this kind of thing.  Now I know it is a compulsion to become a serial killer. It was very interesting to research the case and to learn as much as possible because I wanted to try and figure out where he came from and where he might be.  It sounded so much like the neighborhood I grew up in I could just picture it.  I lived across the street from a creek that runs all through Sacramento. I wrote it for my uncle and Charlene, for the victims, for my grandparents and for myself – to face the fear it held in my memory.

2018 is here. What do you think this year will bring? Will we finally see and end to this dark saga?

I hope 2018 will bring information and the identity of the man who did these things. We have hoped that every year since 1980 especially in my family.  My grandfather Lyman Smith Senior passed away in 2001 never knowing who killed his son.  He only knew that a serial killer had done it.

Where can people keep up with your work?

People can keep up with my work on as well as Facebook, Twitter and Amazon. My first and second editions of Murder On His Mind Serial Killer are there. The Second edition will be the only one there shortly as I have added my family story as well as DNA, Cold Case information, forensics and information about the cases especially in Sacramento where he began. I have done a few podcasts on the case with a new one coming out on FOX 40 Sacramento February 1 with Ali Wolf.

Anything else you would like to add that I forgot to ask about?

I think you covered quite a lot of ground today. A profile of this man would be good to add in some format some time when you have the space.  Those are included many places on the internet as well as my book and the detective’s books who wrote about the cases.

(Profile of the EAR/ONS aka Golden State Killer)




Interview with Pernilla from the podcast True Crime Sweden.

True Crime Sweden is a fascinating podcast that tells stories from the darker side of Sweden in English. Check out the official website here.

Tack så mycket för intervju, Pernilla!


Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is Pernilla, I live in Stockholm, Sweden with my family. I love to travel, and learn about other countries and their culture. I’m also very interested in psychology and how the human mind works.

When and how did you become interested in true crime?

I think my interest for True Crime started when I was very young. The first case I can remember following happened when I was 14. It was a girl named Helen Nilsson who was only 10-years-old when she went missing in 1989. She was found dead 6 days later and had been kept alive for 3-4 days. A man was convicted of her murder in 2004.

I started thinking about what she had been through and how someone could do that to another human being, and a child at that. That’s where my fascination started.

When did the idea of creating a podcast occur to you?

I’ve been listening to podcast for a long time, mostly to true crime podcasts. And I kept hearing the same cases over and over again on different podcast, and saw the potential for a podcast about Swedish True Crime cases. I started to think about starting True Crime Sweden in the end of 2016, and I purchased the domain in the beginning of 2017. And then it took a while to get everything in order, lots of things to learn.

How do you create an episode?

I do a lot of research. I make sure I have the transcripts from the police investigation and also the court transcripts, and of course I also look at news articles from the case. I write a complete story, and then record and edit. I would say I spend somewhere between 30-50 hours on each episode.

Sweden is generally known as a friendly, peaceful country. What is the Swedish “crime landscape” like? What kinds of crimes are typical in Sweden?

I think the crime climate is changing in Sweden. We have very restrictive gun laws, but there are a lot of illegal weapons now days, and there are almost daily shootings in some neighborhoods. We also see a large increase in break-ins, probably due to our open borders.

What are the “classic” unsolved crimes in Sweden?

Of course, the assassination of Prime minister Olof Palme comes to mind first. But there are several; The disappearance of Helena Andersson, 22, in 1992 is one that I always come back to. She disappeared on her way home from a night out, they found her shoes on a walking path close to her home with blood stains on them. But the case has never been solved.

Do you have a theory about the Olof Palme assassination?

I don’t know if I want to go down that rabbit hole. My strongest guess is that it was someone close to, or inside, the police headquarters. There has been such an amazing cover up so anything else would be strange. There were a lot of people inside the police who talked openly about their hatred for Olof Palme before the shooting.

How about other mystery genres: UFOs, ghosts etc. – what are the classic cases in Sweden?

The most well-known mystery is probably the one about “Storsjöodjuret”, or “Big Lake Beast” if you translate it. The Beast was first mentioned in writing in 1635 and some people still thinks that the Beast exist and lives in the lake named Storsjön next to Östersund in Northern Sweden.

In 1986 there was a law passed that says that people are not allowed to kill, harm or catch animals of the species “Storsjöodjur” (if that even is a species?).

In June 2008, four web cameras and one heat camera were place on a islet close by the lake. And they captured “something” on tape, personally I’m not convinced it’s a beast.

Sweden produces a lot of detective novels and crime-themed TV shows, such as Wallander, Beck etc. I would imagine the country’s interest in such stories is a kind of compensation for the relatively peaceful circumstances of life in Sweden. Do you agree?

I’ve never thought of it like that, but that might be true. But we do have a lot of wonderful crime authors in Sweden, Camilla Läckberg, Stieg Larsson and a new favorite of mine – Sofie Sarenbrant.

There was a devastating terrorist attack in Stockholm last Spring. Has that changed things in Sweden in any way, or are people just going on with their lives normally like before the attack?

I think the Swedish people are trying hard not to let the terrorists win. People were standing on Drottninggatan (where the attack took place) giving out hugs for weeks after the attack, to show everyone that love concurs all.

Personally, I always take out one of my earpieces (I always listen to something) when I walk in a public place, to be able to hear if something happens behind me.

Coming back to your podcast, what can we expect from True Crime Sweden in the future?

I’m going to continue to deliver interesting cases from Sweden, either weekly or biweekly depending on how much time I have on my hands. I really love podcasting, and I’m learning as I go along, so I think it’s going to get better with each episode.

Where can people keep up with True Crime Sweden?

My podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play and a lot of other Podcast providers. Just search for True Crime Sweden. You can also stream episodes from my homepage

Anything else you’d like to add that I didn’t ask about?

Nothing comes to mind. Just wanted to say thanks for having me!

And finally, my regular questions.

Your top 3 films?


The Silence of the Lambs

The boy in the striped pyjamas

Your top 3 books?

The hidden child by Camilla Läckberg

The die is cast by Jenny Rogneby

Killer Deal by Sofie Sarenbrant

What model phone do you use?

Iphone 7 (need to upgrade)



Your paranormal experiences.


A while ago I put out a request for paranormal experiences to my Instagram followers. Below are the stories.

Big thank you to everyone who contributed!


Ok I’m 16 now and paranormal stuff used to happen to me everyday 8 years ago. Stuff happens sometimes but not as often. When I was 6 years old I lived in Arizona for 2 and a half years. The scariest stuff that happened to me was when I was 8 in our 3rd and final home. Our house was built in a new neighborhood and there was only one house next to us then house structures next to that one (unbuilt homes that looked creepy) I would always ride my back down the street and hear a faint whisper of my name inside the houses but just ignored it. One night I went to sleep and woke up at what felt like 12 am (I didn’t have a clock anywhere to know the exact time) and there was a figure at the top of my door way I called out to it and said hello and it came down from the door frame into the door way I got out of bed and walked towards it slowly and it started backing up then I said “ok i have to go to sleep now” then ran into bed and slept with the sheet over my head. The night after or a couple nights later I woke up again and my back was facing my mirror and so I turned to face the mirror and the figure was right there I said “ok goodnight” and rolled the other way and went back to bed. To this day I sleep with a sheet over my head so if I wake up at night I won’t see anything.


I was staying at my girlfriend’s grandmother’s house with said gf and her sister one summer when I had the occurrence.

My gf and I were winding down for the night and her sister had walked out the door to the porch to speak with someone on the phone. We ended up laying on the living room floor and I remember her mentioning the blinds lightly swaying back and fourth and that I should check it out. No windows were open, the central air system was off, couldn’t see why they were moving but I didn’t really care. I insisted we roll over, and at this point we rolled the other direction and were facing the kitchen. We both heard a noise like pans losing balance in the sink and toppling in a relatively gentle manner, but she recalled there being no dishes in the sink (mind you the entrance to the basement from the kitchen was creepy enough in the daytime.. but this wasn’t really what the scary thing was). I recommended going and laying in the bedroom next to her sister’s, on a full size mattress, it was cramped as hell but we made the best of it. Eventually I heard her sister walk in the door and go to her room.. At one point in the night I remembered drifting off and being woken up by the sound of scratching on the wall, leaned up but didn’t see the bae doing anything but sleeping so I thought maybe it was the sister screwing around with us..
Fell back asleep.. THEN woken again by the sound of the bathroom door opening, (thinking this was the girly coming back in) followed by hearing/seeing our door open, plus a dark figure coming in and shutting the door. As I saw “her” come in I reached a hand over to her part of the bed to pull the covers back (I literally felt and saw her step up onto the edge of the bed to get in) she was still laying next to me covered up.. and as I looked back this thing was still standing on (literally ON) the edge of the bed where it stepped up to get in, lurching over her as I stared in disbelief, just terrified with paralysis… somehow passing out and waking up the next day.
Weirdest occurrence I’ve ever had.


My house is over 300 years old and as a result it makes some weird sounds. It gets weirder than the sounds though. Both me and my mother have seen a blackish purple mass of matter move from the lounge to the kitchen. Also, when my sister was 2, she would crawl through the mainly unused part of the house calling “grandad, grandad!” But our grandad lives over 100 miles away. I later discovered that the man who built our house those 300 years ago looks remarkably like my grandad. I keep my drum kit in this unused part of the house and while drumming one day, halfway through a song, something just felt off. Like I was no longer alone in the too. I had thought I had seen someone come in in the corner of my eye but no one had. By far the scariest thing to happen was when my mum called me down for tea, I got up from my bed and began to go. Suddenly, I was flung against my wardrobe and was unable to move from that spot. I have never been more terrified in my life. After remaining like that for roughly 10 seconds I could move freely again and went downstairs.

I know this is a bit all over the place but I am just listing the things that have happened in order of when I remember them.
My family and I went to Nepal for vacation when I was 4 years old. My mom’s cousins, my uncle and aunt also decided to join us. We stayed at a hotel at a pretty quiet place near the hills. I don’t remember much about that place as I was only 4 years old. My mom said when they arrived at that place it gave her a bad vibe, but she decided to brush it off. The next morning, my dad wanted to go to see the sunrise, but my mom wasn’t feeling well and I couldn’t wake up either. So we both stayed at the hotel. My uncle was also sleeping in the next room and didn’t go either. So my dad and my aunt went to see the sunrise. Meanwhile in the hotel, after like an hour of their departure, my mom heard someone unlocking the door of our room. She was still quite asleep. She saw a black shadow like figure enter the room and went to the closet and brought out my father’s coat and wore it. She thought it was my father who had come back to take the coat. But the figure slowly started to approach her. It was like a shadow, all black. It didn’t have a face. My mom was frozen in the bed and couldn’t move, I was fast asleep beside her. The shadow came near and took a pillow from beside her and shoved it on her face trying to suffocate her. She was struggling to get released from that and was holding on to me. Surprisingly, after a while of struggling, that thing entirely disappeared. It was like nothing ever happened in that room. My dad and aunt came back after sometime. My mom was so scared that she didn’t tell anyone anything. When we all went to the hotel restaurant to eat breakfast, my uncle suddenly started to say that something odd had happened to him earlier that morning. As he started telling what happened to him, my mom’s jaw dropped on the floor and she couldn’t believe that. The same thing had happened with my uncle too. We left the hotel that day. And we still don’t know what that thing actually was.
When I was a kid I use to “see” or dream ghosts. This one time, my brother and I shared a room there was this old lady sitting on one of our chairs (the chair used to be in the living room before that happened) she was watching me sleep. She was glowing and pale. My grandma recently died when that happened but the old lady looked nothing like my grandma.

Not much of this paranormal experience is in the realm of PG (I will hint it at tho) and since this happened like almost a 1 year ago (maybe 8 months ago idk), I might not be able to remember much that actually is appropriate considering those aren’t what made this story memorable. So basically this is the story of our meeting and the demon doing normal ghost things.

So basically the gist is that there was a demon in my house (or multiple, still haven’t been able to determine that). It had been there for all of my life up until about 1 year ago and I hadn’t known until I was in middle school cause before I didn’t know anything about ghosts or spirits except for the fact they existed. I didn’t know what it felt like or looked like. During my middle school days is when he got active. With further research 2 months ago, I found out the reason the demon was more active then than ever was because they’re attracted to and feed off of negative energy and I was really depressed then. Before this time, I hadn’t even seen him, only felt his presence. He watched me and followed me all the time but one night he decided he wanted to meet me face to face. I was watching TV and the light over the kitchen table started flickering. I heard a sound from the hallway next to the stairs but nothing go down or up them. I walked over cautiously to say what that sound could’ve been cause It could’ve been my dog (small dog) walking around. At the end of the hallway was a tall, dark shadowy figure. We stared at each other for a moment and then he walked away towards the stairs. The light stopped flickering and I just went back to watching TV for some reason, I guess I thought it was gone. Later that night, after taking a shower, I looked both ways cause I guess I still felt him there. I looked to my right and saw him again but this time he was much closer to me (about 10ft away from me). I got a really good look at him. He wasn’t like a dark blob but actually had a distinct figure, and a door behind him helped me figure that he was about 7ft tall. (Research from 2 months ago pointed out that that’s no good). After a couple seconds, he walked into my then room a.k.a the Pink Room. During both encounters, I didn’t feel scared at all, just extreme curious.
So for the next 5 years, he was only messing with me and family didn’t even know he existed. I didn’t say anything to them and was really wondering how they couldn’t feel him when his presence was so strong. But then again his activity only occurred if I was by myself. Being home alone and hearing him pacing on the 2nd floor became annoying after it became difficult for me to block it out. Sometimes I’d go up there to where the noise was coming from and it would stop immediately. But some times, he would sit next to me in the recliner (one time he sat on the couch and pat me) and we’d watch TV together. Even THAT part sounds really crazy to me but it happened a lot, almost on a daily basis. (I think about it everyday) The weird thing about him though was that whenever I wore a specific striped hoodie, he’d either tug the back of it or push me. I even tested this with other striped hoodie but nothing happened. He did normal ghost stuff like knocking on walls or doors, trying to open a closed door, lurking, making light over the kitchen table flicker like crazy, blowing bulbs, scaring the dog, talking with the purpose of trying to spook me, pushing my chair while I was trying to draw (cheeky bastard thought that was funny) and worst of all, watching me or disturbing me while I slept. Things did go bump in the night and at first, it dud scare me but then I got annoyed by it and told him to shut up. He only either poked or stroked my back or side when I tried drifting off to sleep and sat at the end of the bed. Only during the day did he speak. At first, it was calling me at random points, then it was “hey”(to which I responded to with a confused “hello?”), then it was just sighing. When I was leaving to go shopping with my family, he asked me where I was going to which I responded “out”. His third sighting happened when I was laying almost upside down on the my bed, watching a paranormal video on YouTube trying to educate myself on beings like him and in the corner of my eye, I just see this huge dark mass coming towards me. I got up to look but it was gone. Sometimes I think about what would have happened if I didn’t move.

When I was 14 and 15, we did have our “encounters” in between the moments stated. This is where his energy went from feeling observant, curious, and friendly to a hungry predator stalking its prey. Making the darkness feel and look like an actually mass. It felt different from being in the light and I felt so scared if I was in dark for even a second but sometimes I wanted to stay. His influence over me was already so powerful (10 years of it) that I could shut off any part of my brain telling me to back away. He sapped away my energy so I was always tired, no matter much sleep I had gotten, and with the way things were going, even taking a nap wasn’t a good idea. Nightmares became normal for me and with his having so much energy, he could take control over me in said nightmares. I think about them a lot and I’m just bewildered by it. (I’m not gonna go any deeper into this period as stated above but I’m 100% positive you get the picture based off context clues. There were two major cases and many minor cases where such experiences took place while I was awake. IDK unless you wanna hear about one or something, which is fine).

I did, however, challenge him in one of those nightmares.

My friends and family and I were running away from him in a maze. The deal was that if we could escape before morning, we could leave without any resistance and he wouldn’t go about messing with them IRL. So we had made it through the maze and was turning the lights off to go and my dad was telling me to come quickly and not to turn around. I looked down the hallways and saw HIM standing down there. This time he had red eyes and was very angry but so was I. I walked to the center of my side of the hallway and yelled “Come on! Let’s go! I’m not afraid of you!”. For split second, I could see he was shocked but then I blinked and he was mere inches from my face. I woke up, out of breath and not sure if I had won. His activity stopped for a week but he came back livid but that experience goes under the X-rated category and even thinking about that one makes my checks fire up and cover my face in embarrassment and then I wanna curl up and screech for the next few minutes. Other times, it makes me upset and I mutter “that fucking patronizing bastard” over and over again until I’m over it. And that’s pretty much it on the story bit

Something that I realized I while ago that for all those years I wasn’t scared of the dark, I was scared of what was in the dark. All those times my parents said “there’s nothing in there. Look.” and I would say “Yes there is. It feels like there is.” I was actually right and they didn’t believe me cause I was between the age of 5 and 15. At 5, it’s “just your imagination”. At 15, “you need to grow up” and “you don’t need a nightlight”. (Also I realized while typing this that he harvested me like a damn fruit tree. The nerve of this guy I tell ya…)Even though he’s probably gone now [I think I don’t know for sure cause he’s had dormant periods before where I don’t feel anything but they were only for 1 week to 4 months. I haven’t been depressed in a long time so even if he were still here, he doesn’t have a source of energy. But if depression isn’t feeding him then my fear surely is] and I’ve since changed rooms into what I call the Blue Room or the Sky, I still hate looking into the dark and since my favorite aunt just died and the mood’s been very negative around here even before then, I’m wonder if he’ll come back. A part of me longs for him to come back but the other part is terrified of his return. Still got a nightlight and taking note of anything suspicious, just in case. I think about this everyday like “damn…. that really happened… Holy guacamole….”


Okay so I’ve learned to live with this but it’s nowhere near less terrifying.

When I was very little (before I could speak) I used to cry a lot. Pretty normal, right? Only, when in our apartment, I would only cry in my bedroom. I didn’t cry because I didn’t want to sleep alone, it was EVERY SINGLE TIME that I was in that room. I would refuse to go anywhere near my room, only going when either my mother, father or sister was carrying me while showing me that “There are no monsters in the closet or under the bed”. Still, I always cried in that room – otherwise I almost never cried.

Fast forward to when I learned how to speak. I was nine months old (I talked from an early age) and immediately, I would say “old woman, old woman, old woman” and point at my room. My family never understood what I meant or wanted.

Anyway, my family has moved a lot, I don’t even know why but we have moved a total of nine times, and every time there would be a certain spot in the house or the apartment that terrified me and that I refused to be at. My best friend now once told me her deepest secret, and you are going to die laughing when I tell you this, but she, her mother and old relatives can “see ghosts”. (Every third child born of the third child) and I wouldn’t believe her unless she could prove it. She did. I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say. She described my brother who died a few years before I was born, I had NEVER mentioned him before and she knew every single detail about him down to the mole on his neck. She told me of my aunt who had died forty years ago, when my own mother was only a year old. My mom is the eldest child, her sister was the second, so she was too young to remember her. No one besides my grandparents know about her, I only knew because my cousin and I once eavesdropped on them, but we never told anyone. Later, a few weeks after my great grandmother died, she told me she had seen an old woman around me. I had failed to mention that my great grandmother had died. She was over 110 years old and lived in my country (Kurdistan, the Middle East). My friend described her in such a detailed way that I couldn’t see her for weeks because I was so scared.

A few months before I turned fifteen, my baby sister was born. When my sister learned how to speak she would say “dark lady” a lot. One day I asked her “Who is the dark lady?” and she said “the dark lady is old and scary. She has a black dress on. I can’t see her face. She’s scary.” I choked. Those were the exact same words I had used to describe the “old woman” as a kid. I won’t lie, I got light headed and thought I would pass out.

Remember my friend? The one who can f**king see ghosts? We were going to hang out once. I told her I had to watch my sister while my parents went to a meeting for an hour or so and that she could come over until they come home. She reluctantly did so. When she came over, I asked her what was wrong. Her answer? “I . . . I don’t like it here.” I asked her “Why?” and she said “It’s just . . . You remember what I told you? About what I can . . . see? Dude there this freaky looking old bitch in your house and she just so fucking angry all the time. She fucking terrifies me. That’s why I’m always in a rush to get out of your house. It was the same in your old house.” I freaked. I thought about the times she had left the house, the rush she had always been in.

I kid you the f**k not, at that exact moment, my sister, almost three years old now, let out the loudest shriek of cry I have ever heard a kid let out. She started screaming my name and ran to me, saying that the “old woman” was angry. I wondered why she went from calling her “dark lady” to “old woman” because I had been the one who had called her “old woman” as a kid. I grabbed my sister, then my friend went so fucking pale I thought she’d faint then and there. She said “She’s so f**king angry . . .”

When my parents came home I kept screaming that we need to move again. I couldn’t stay in that house. They wouldn’t listen until my baby sister said that she doesn’t want to be home because of an angry old woman that scared her. They were pissed, thinking I had scared my sister. I called my older sister and told her everything (I didn’t tell her about my friend, I promised her I wouldn’t) and she went dead silent for the longest time. She hung up, called my mom, and told her that there is no way I could have kept up a lie about some old bitch for seventeen years.

We moved again. My little sister hasn’t seen anything yet, she hasn’t said anything about the woman, but things keep happening. I find things in places where I haven’t left them. I wanted to test and see if someone was pranking me two months ago so I put and old photo of me when I was around four or five years old up on my highest shelf and put a small box over it. Two days later I found that same picture on the floor in the hallway and a spot on the lower left corner was blurry (I don’t know how else to describe it) and I was so scared I burned the picture out in the backyard.

I’m f**king terrified. I don’t know what to do with this old f**king bitch. My friend told me that it can’t be a coincidence that my sister says what I used to say. I’m eighteen now and this started when I was only a few months old. Whatever and whomever this woman is, she’s been following my family for a long time. The few people that know about this don’t believe me. They think it’s fake because I’ve always had a lively imagination. But it’s not fake, I know it. I never mentioned this to my little sister, no one has, and I don’t know why she says the same as I used to say.

That’s my story. I hope it gives other people the courage to tell their stories because a lot of people won’t in fear of being laughed at and called crazy.

Ashleigh (IG @ash.armour):

I live in Australia in classic suburbia and my house is only 10 years old so there’s not really any reason why these things should be happening.

I started to notice about a few years ago when I received a locket of a family friend that weird things started happening. I was about 10 years old at the time and fascinated with old things. She said that her family owned an estate in rural New South Wales and they were going to demolish the property so they went through and cleaned everything out which is how she found this necklace. The house was built in the 1800’s and owned by a husband and wife who had a young daughter and twin babies. In this locket, there’s a picture of the young girl and the babies. The story around this family is that the young daughter was jealous of the attention the babies were receiving from their parents so In a fit of rage when they were crying she strangled one of the babies and upon being interrupted by a maid threw the other over the railing of the staircase and he obviously hit the ground and passed away. The parents locked her in the basement and allegedly she starved to death down there as the parents committed suicide. I have no idea if this is all true but I have started calling the young girl Annabell. As I said I was 10 when I was given the necklace, I have always been a very clean person and haven’t had a history of sleepwalking. I used to come home from school and a lot of toys in my room would be out of their allocated spots on the floor, this continued on for about a year before I started seeing a young girl in the corner of my vision. She was always dressed the same and was about my age at the time so I started to talk to her being the psyco that I am. I remember getting very frustrated that she kept leaving my toys out so I got mad at her and I would always have something negative happen to me, I would get pushed or bitten. Then one night something fell off a shelf and I remember saying “go away I’m trying to go to sleep, I don’t want you here anymore” I went to sleep after that and in the middle of the night I woke up and felt like something was crushing me. I screamed out for my mother and it stopped. She never believed me that someone was choking me until I had bruises turn up on my neck the next morning. I live in my own place and leave her be now. I have some toys in my house for her and I guess she plays with those now.

I have an old telescope which I believe belongs to a man named Robert he doesn’t do anything around the house, I have a friend who has some EVP machines and a white noise machine and I believe that he is the one that mainly speaks through everything. I’ve only ever made contact with Annabell once, the first time I called on her I said “I know that there’s a little girl that lives with me, and she likes to make a mess. Do you want to speak to us?” And as clear as day a giggle came through the speaker and then a male voice said no. At that point, I only had the necklace and the telescope so I know that it was probably Annabell and Robert.

I have a cabinet where I have old porcelain dolls and there’s one I notice moves positions from time to time it’s this old handmade thing that I bought from a vintage store I’m thinking of returning it because I believe it gives me sleep paralysis. I’ve only just recently purchased it which is why I believe this is happening. I’ve also been incredibly sick since I purchased the doll and it started the day I brought it home, when I leave the house I feel monumentally better however when I return home I feel incredibly heavy and depressed, I have vomiting fits and huge migraines which end up with me needing to be taken to hospital. I’ve even had a few seizures which I don’t have a history of ever happening. Sometimes when I go near the doll to fix its positions my nose begins to bleed, so I believe that the doll is probably causing all my health issues and it may be best to pass it on to someone to have it destroyed or kept in a secure place.

I have more objects that I think have something attached to them if you need more content.

At my stepmother’s house, we believe that her mother haunts the house. Nothing really happens but around birthdays and holidays things really amp up. It’s not malicious but sometimes we hear her voice in the house. a family friend also told us recently that he had had a heart attack and she was standing at the end of his bed cussing him out telling him he shouldn’t be a dickhead and die. That was the type of woman she was. As I said, around special occasions activity in the house really amps up – almost always my step sister and I will wake up to something pulling and ticking our feet (Nanna Linda used to do this to wake my stepmother and her sisters up in the morning for school). Sometimes we’ll get touched on the shoulders and necks. We also have a tape somewhere of one of the kids’ birthdays were in the background you can clearly hear her voice say “wow that looks like a nice cake”

We also believe that there is someone else in the house. My step sister started seeing it before I was around and she always described it to me as a big black mass that used to watch her sleep. About 4 years after I came along I finally experienced it for myself. She woke me up in the middle of the night and said “Ashleigh please tell me you see him too!” I looked towards the door and the room was dark but there was a mass there that looked like it was darker than the room itself. After that night it seemed like we would always hear someone stomping up and down the hallway when we were home alone. Doors will open and close by themselves, and I hear someone calling my name quite often. I don’t feel like its malicious but I would eventually like to learn who it is.


So you asked for something unexplained and I may have something for you. Here goes.

The house I grew up in in Western New York in a township near Newfane, New York was the oldest house in that area. It was built in the mid 18th century just after the country was founded. Apparently, the family who lived there housed folks who fought in the War of 1812. That area is rich in history with many homes along Lake Ontario aiding in the underground railroad. Anyway, our family and friends had several encounters with apparitions and such as early as the 1970’s. My grandparents bought the home in 1968. But the ones I am aware of took place between 1984 to about 2000.

The first occurrence was a woman who would appear at the foot of my mother’s bed upstairs. My mother’s boyfriend saw her one time and engaged in a conversation, and she did not answer back. She sat there and combed her hair. My mother came upstairs and asked who he was talking to. He stated he was talking to my Grandmother and when he turned she was gone. This happened several times to several people and when my Grandmother finally experienced her she went to our church and got blessed water. Setting it around the house. During this time I was taking a nap during the day in my bed and my mother climbed into my bed with me. My bedroom was across from hers. Anyway, I awoke to the bed shaking. My mother half awake told me to stop it. What’s funny is this trip this Christmas I brought this up to her and told her that it had never been me. You see she played pranks on me when I was young and I had thought it was her. Only it wasn’t. Both of us having had experiences in the home, this didn’t surprise us. But even all these years later it still sends a chill down my spine.

Well the holy water seemed to do the trick as it wasn’t until about 1998 after my grandmother (she died in 1997) had passed did things start back up. In the fall of 98 I was in college and spent the night and a lot of time with my Grandpa in my childhood bedroom. It was a small square room with a good sized closet. The closet had no door, only a hanging sheet of sorts. Hard to describe really but you get the picture. Anyway I awoke to the feeling I was not alone. This was about 6:30am or so, as the sun had just come up. The room was still somewhat dark but the room was still light enough that you could move around and not bump into something. I turned my head to see a silhouette of a man standing in front of the closet. As my eyes adjusted, the shadow rushed towards me. I threw the covers over my head, and I kid you not I could hear my heart pounding. I had never even to this day been so frightened as I was that morning. When I removed the blanket nothing was there. I flew out of the bed and went into my Grandfather’s room and climbed into the spare bed. I look back on it thinking “what the hell was that blanket going to do?” Anyway, I told my Grandfather the next day and he said that it could have been anything. We both dismissed it as that.

About three days later my girlfriend came over to the house. She had free reign of the house and went upstairs. I knew this at the time because I was in the cellar smoking a cigarette. As a closeted smoker to my grandfather, I would go down there to smoke and heard her going up the stairs. Moments later I hear her say “you’re an a**hole” and it’s then I came upstairs. She turns to look at me coming up the stairs and I remember a look of puzzlement and then fear on her face. She quickly turned and screamed “What the f**k?” I asked what was going on? Shaken, she said she had gone upstairs thinking I was playing a video game up there. There in the hallway was a man who’s back was turned to her. Thinking it was me, she asked him what I was doing, and it did not answer. She then called it an a**hole. It was then I came upstairs and diverted her attention and in a flash it was gone. After this she would not go upstairs for a while. When she finally did it was only with someone else.

Finally the last instance with this apparition happened some time after. I’ll be honest: I’m not clear when exactly, just shortly thereafter. My uncle was getting a divorce from his wife and had already taken up with a woman. This is all well and good, but what made me mad was he was using my Grandfather’s house as his love shack. This woman and him spent the night and were sleeping in my mother’s old bedroom. I had come home at about 2:30am from going out with friends. Sitting in the living room I was eating a bowl of cereal watching a Star Trek Voyager rerun. Suddenly I heard the woman scream and wondered what they were doing up there. Hoping she didn’t wake my Granddad, who was stressed about the whole thing. They came down shortly later and the woman says to my uncle “I am not staying here another night!” I turned and asked what the hell was going on. My uncle, perplexed and still half asleep, goes “I don’t know – ask her.” She begins by telling us she awoke to the feeling that someone was standing over her. Thinking it was my uncle, she reached out to touch his beard – only her hand went through this thing’s face. Both my uncle and I had a look of shock on our faces. True to her word, it was the last time we saw her. It was a week later I learned from my mom, after telling all this to her, of all the death that had happened in and around the home.

Supposedly a man had killed himself in the attic at the turn of the century by hanging himself. What added to the sense of horror for me was that in the center of the attic were two wooden support beams and around one was a hemp rope wrapped loosely around it. I am not saying he hung himself there, but really it’s the only spot where you could do it. This had to be that man that had seemed so angry and yet curious about us. Add to that a woman that died of pneumonia in the 1910’s and finally the reason the house went up for sale in 1968. A young girl ran out to her school bus that January and was run over as the bus couldn’t stop in time. Honestly, that freaked me out the most as there was a large maple tree in the front yard with a tire swing that was dilapidated but had been hers. I strongly remember it as a child as I was not allowed to use it. My Grandfather cut it down while I was still very young. Like I said my mom and I discussed this not more than a week ago again. My mother has never lied to me or anyone really. So I believe her when she told me all this. So anyway my Grandfather sold the home in 2004 and the next door neighbor bought it for their grown up child. My mother told me that the woman’s mother told her that the family has experienced things in the house as well very recently. For example, the woman has felt a ghostly cat walking around her legs. So to this day the damn place doesn’t fail to disappoint. I know there were times I would be in my mom’s old bedroom and have a sense of dread and anxiety come over me. I hated that room and I can’t tell you exactly why. So in closing, this is my experience with the unexplained. I haven’t to the best of my knowledge embellished anything. Everything happened as I stated. Honestly, I could go on an on with stories my mom shared this past Christmas that happened to her and my Grandmother in that house before I was born. But you get the general idea.


So the year was 1994, I was 25 yrs old and had recently divorced my first wife. I was going through a very hard time so I decided I’d start attending church again after a long absence.

After a couple weeks I noticed a really cute girl named Tanya but she had a super dorky boyfriend, damn… Anyways, I would say “hi” and occasionally engage in small talk after church. Well one day Tanya’s Mom came to me and asked if I would mind coming to help her move some stuff from their attic to the basement. I immediately thought “f**k no I don’t wanna help, the football game’s on today!” But then I got excited with the thought of getting to see and know Tanya better so I said “yes”. Not from the goodness of my heart but for my own selfish reasons.. and only I knew this.

Now I go over to their house and help with the task they had asked if me, it’s well past dinner time and I live an hour away. I didn’t drive myself there so they suggested I spend the night and she would give me a ride home the following morning. Reluctantly I agreed and they set me up in the living room on the couch. The house was a small farmhouse built in the 1700s. In fact there was a picture of the house in the late 1800s/early 1900s and it was in the middle of a field and that field is now a forest of trees. Yeah it’s an old house. Anyways, I fell asleep rather quickly due to all the work I had done and around 3 am was awakened by an old lady rocking in a rocker that wasn’t there when I went to sleep earlier. She’s literally 3 ft from me and she’s glowing blue, yes glowing…blue.

She’s knitting something. I rub my eyes and do a double take and she’s still there!
All of the sudden she stops knitting to look up at me. She’s staring me straight in the eyes, and says with a disapproving scowl “I know why you’re really here – you ain’t fooling no one!”

I was so freaked out I passed out and when I woke up she was gone but I could still feel her watching me.

That was one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever had with an intelligent spirit.

So the next day I mentioned to the mother “ha, you didn’t tell me your house was haunted!”, to which she inquired about what I experienced. She confirmed that there is indeed an old lady as well as a solider that haunt the house.

My dad was visiting one time and something threw the phone that was on the shelf at him.

True story, swear on my mothers life.


I was 12. My family and I went to a cabin. There were only two bedrooms because it was a small cabin, so me, my cousin and her nanny sleep in the living room. I slept on the couch exactly by the window and my cousin and her nanny slept on an airbed, I don’t remember exactly at what time but it was still dark outside. I felt like someone was watching me…. I was uncomfortable. When I opened my eyes I saw someone standing and looking at me; it was a dark and tall figure. I was trying to remain calm so I woke the nanny and asked to switch places and went back to bed.

The next day when we went home, we stopped by to get something to eat, and I told my family about the event. The nanny told us that last night she thought she was having a nightmare: she woke up, and it was also dark when she faced the window. She said that she saw a hand through the window and it grabbed her hand. She said that she couldn’t scream and she didn’t remember the rest after she closed her eyes.


One night I was staying over my cousins house and she had a toy doll that the neighbor gave her. I opened it up and was messing around with it ’cause dolls scare her. She told me to throw it away and when I did that’s when everything started happening. We were laying on her bed on our phones, she had her headphones on playing music but I didn’t. All of a sudden I hear my name being whispered. Mind you her room was downstairs and everyone else slept upstairs. I kept hearing my name being whispered “Danni , Danni , Danni” and it wouldn’t stop. It was a male voice, but it was not recognizable. I thought I was going crazy until I was tapping my cousin. When she took off her headphones the look on her face was one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. She also heard the voice but it wouldn’t stop. She got scared and put back her headphones so she could block it out. After a good 30 mins of my name being called I got up to where the voice was and said “What do you want?” The next thing I know the voice was next to my ear and yelled “DANNI!” I ran back to the bed, and me and her ignored it the rest of the night. To this day we still don’t know what it was.








Interview with Chivis from the Borderland Beat blog

For the past several years, Borderland Beat has been reporting what many others are afraid of reporting: news and stories about the drug wars in Mexico and the United States.

Below is my interview with Chivis, one of the masterminds behind the blog.

Muchos gracias for agreeing to this interview, Chivis!

Borderland Beat02

Without disclosing crucial details, tell us a bit about yourself!

I am married, mother of 3, and grandmother of 5, including a set of twins. My education, through college was in Los Angeles. I am of Mexican-American heritage. I am second generation American born. My husband and I have owned and operated an international business for 25 years. We have lived in 12 countries, mostly Asia and Latin America. 14 years ago I founded our family foundation, 100% of all funds are family generated, we work in Central America, Mexico and the U.S. building schools, therapy centers for special needs children, with emphasis on autism and provide educational resources and “kitchens” for impoverished children. This honors the life of my autistic grandson. BTWin Mexico he is the first non-Mexican citizen to have a school named in his honor.

I settled in NE Mexico. I had no idea that it was a hotbed of narco violence. And I was so naïve. My family is from Sinaloa, Jalisco and Sonora. So I didn’t have family in Coahuila where I put down roots. However, after the first shootout, literally in my parking lot, I became a quick study of all things narco.

What is Borderland Beat?

BB is a project. Borderland Beat was founded by “Buggs”. Buggs is a Mexican American who was with a police agency as assistant chief. He, like most of us, became frustrated at the lack of honest reporting of what was transpiring in Mexico with organized crime and drug trafficking. One could access Mexico’s news outlets, however if person lacked Spanish skills it was pointless. BB would be a tool, in English, providing original work or translated work of Spanish language articles. We refrain from politics for the most part, but we do not hold back in offering raw truth. That holds true with graphic images, of Mexican Organized Crime and Narco War. (Narco means drug) Americans are ignorant to what is happening south of the border. Something that affects so many Americans, yet they remain in the dark as to information. It is the fault of the press. They choose what is investigated and published.

None of us are paid. We are all volunteers.

All U.S. agencies of the drug war follow us and respect us. Even the Whitehouse for the last two administrations. Agencies use us as a training tool for new agents. The book Bloodlines, is a true story about the Zetas and their horse racing money laundering scheme. In the first paragraph it has a new FBI agent, reading BB on his computer as he is educating himself on the Mexican Drug War.

Take us through the process of creating a post for the blog. How is research carried out? Do you have contributors on the ground in Mexico and the US ?

We have contributors in Mexico, the majority are, or part time. One of our fantastic contributors is known by the name “Otis” and he lives in the U.K.

We also have sources and myself I have developed good relationships with authors, publications and journalists. They call on us to help glean information, to verify or to pick our brain.

For me creating a post begins with recognizing something that moves me. Maybe I receive a communication, or read a pot in the Mexican press. I then set out to research by accessing historical information, contacting people on the ground and contacting fellow reporters. Agencies are a good help with some articles. People don’t realize that federal agencies are willing to assist where they are able. I attempt to contact the principals of a story. That is how I met Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles and Ann Devert I consider both dear friends. Ann is the mother of Harry Devert, the traveler killed in Michoacán. Embassies, DEA-DOJ agencies and agents etc. I have a good relationship with many agents, special agents and defense attorneys. El Chapo’s lead attorney and I have been communicating since he defended “El Mochomo”. The attorney respects BB and like most organized crime attorneys he has followed jus for years. Because of the trust developed he sends me all press releases before the general press.

What is your number 1 most read/cited scoop of all time?

That would be a photo sent to me of El Chapo. This was prior to his being captured and no one has a photo since his El Puente prison days. I wasn’t quite sure if it was genuine so I titled the headline “A new photo of El Chapo? You be the judge.” The story was republished countless times including most of Mexican press. Surprisingly I was given source credit by just about everyone. I have received many exclusive photos. In three cases U.S. agencies used them for official web pages. Including the photo in question of El Chapo.

“Los Zetas”, “Cartel del Golfo”, “El Chapo Guzman” – these are words we frequently hear in connection with stories about the narco wars. But who are they? Can you give us a brief overview of the battle lines in the drug war?

That would have to be asked in a timeline context. The so called war is very fluid. Enemies one day, allies the next, or visa versa. In my state of Coahuila, I landed there over a decade ago. I witness up close and personal Z’s and CDG as allies, then as deadly enemies. Z’s have controlled our state since the split. My first shoot-out I witnessed was at my offices, I had the complete complex as my own. With iron gates, security etc. One day the Mexican Navy was in a clash with Z’s they entered my complex for no more than 3 mins but our parking area was littered with bullet casings, as was the streets. Two innocent mothers were hit by gunfire, as they were at a school, awaiting their children. One mothered died.

Back to your question, it is complicated, ever-changing and needs a chapter or book of its own. I will say CDG is the oldest cartel. They began as alcohol smugglers during the U.S. prohibition years. Zetas were founded by former or deserted special forces turned bad guys. They formed to be the enforcers for CDG. El Chapo should need no introduction. But he was given Sinaloa Cartel to operate for the original Mexican godfather Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, aka “El Padrino” who controlled all drug “plazas”. He was arrested for the murder of U.S. DEA agent Enrique Camarena. He remains in prison today. The murder was brutal. He was brought back from the brink of death multiple times only to be tortured further. Padrino –means Godfather-knew he would be locked up for decades, at least. So he divided jup drug regions and put them in the hands of his most trusted. That is how Chapo entered as capo.


(Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Photo:

Many of us in Europe have fond images and representations of Mexico in our minds: sunny beaches, great food, warm weather… When did things get dark for Mexico? When did this mayhem start?

Only about a third of Mexico could be considered narco land. The thing to remember, the truth of the matter is that Mexican government is in reality the cartel. It is horribly corrupt, racist and untrustworthy. Narcos exist because it is big money for the government. At one time drugs were legal in Mexico; there were no cartels and no violence.

Mexico is rich in culture, natural resources and is a stunningly beautiful and diverse landscape. From Ancient pyramids, to sandy pristine beaches it is an amazing country to visit. Food is delicious, and so different in the various regions. My family is/was from Sinaloa, Jalisco and Sonora.

One notorious aspect of the drug wars are the beheading and torture videos. Why do they film those gruesome acts? Who are the videos aimed at?

The first execution on video was created/directed by Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez. His and all that followed were created to instill terror in the people and enemies alike. I can’t watch them and have “watchers” do the dirty deed for me so I can report on them. I was sent an exclusive homemade video once, of 49 dismembered bodies being dumped. I did not watch, but I listened and even the sounds were something that has stayed with me.

A prevailing myth among “laymen” is that anyone who is killed by the cartels must have been somehow “dirty”, involved in the drug trade. Is this true?

NOT TRUE!!! Often innocents are used as props. It is easier to collect compliant innocents. And municipal police, in collusion with narcos, conduct the collection.

Further info read my article

Is there any end in sight? Can you think of a realistic scenario that would lead to the bloodshed coming to an end, and the people of Mexico being liberated from the terror of the cartels?

Not in my lifetime or that of my children. It has to come from the people. Once a group of Mexican people were asking why the rule of law and personal freedom is so strong in the U.S. and not Mexico. I said because the people of the United States are willing to die for it. The people of Mexico are not there yet in any organized way. Mexicans walk around with blinders on for their self-preservation. It became “My house, my family, my space…” nothing else matters.

A book that well describes this is “Manana Forever” by Jorge Castaneda

Can people help in any way? If someone reading this thinks “I want to do something about this!”, what would you say to them?

Be informed and inform. One cannot change something that is unknown. Talk to friends.

What’s next for you? Have you thought of writing a book?

My husband is going to semi retire in 2018, so we can live a more settled life. Our business has exceeding all of our expectations by leaps and bounds, our family foundation will never die, we have fulfilled all of our lifegoals. so whatever our next and final chapter brings we look forward to.

I would love to write a book. It would be different I think, “a naïve humanitarian, sets up shop in the middle of Mexico’s narco war and becomes a Narco Reporter-Blogger.” Sounds about right.

But I can’t write the book without being exposed. I have broken bread with some of the most evil of characters in government, names everyone knows. And if outed my staff would be in danger. So for now a book is too dicey.

Finally, the regular questions I ask from all my interviewees:

Your top 3 books?

That is tough… I am a reader

Parting of the Waters

The Band Played on

The executioner’s song

Your top 3 movies?

Godfather II

To Kill a Mockingbird

A Woman Under the Influence

What model phone do you use?

Like U.S. presidents and Narcos alike, I use Blackberry for security

I have the KEYONE model for a couple of months.


Interview with Bill Thomas, brother of serial killer victim Cathleen Thomas

In the 1980s a serial killer stalked an area known as the Colonial Parkway in Virginia, United States. He killed 8 people. The killings became known as “The Colonial Parkway Murders”. 

Below is my interview with Mr. Bill Thomas, brother of victim Cathleen Thomas. Despite a successful career in the entertainment business, Bill still dedicates lots of his time to pushing this case towards it’s conclusion.

Thank you, Bill, for agreeing to an interview with Books, Bullets and Bad Omens!


(Mr Bill Thomas. Photo: Alexa Welch Edlund / Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Who are you? Tell us a little bit about yourself!

My name is Bill Thomas. I am the older brother of Cathy Thomas, who together with her girlfriend Rebecca Dowski, were the first two victims in the unsolved Colonial Parkway Murders, in which 8 young people (4 couples, one lesbian and three straight) were murdered in lover’s lanes in and around Williamsburg, Virginia from 1986 to 1989.  I have been an executive in the entertainment business in for the past 30 years, working as an Executive Director for artist advocacy organizations SAG-AFTRA, the American Federation of Musicians, the Art Directors Guild and ASCAP. I l have lived in Los Angeles for the past 11 years since moving here from New York.
What was your sister Cathleen like? What were her dreams and aspirations in life? When was the last time you talked to her?

At the risk of sounding like every other big brother in the world, my sister Cathy was amazing. She was the youngest of four kids, three boys and a girl. Cathy was a real pioneer, a trail blazer, a member of the second class of women to graduate from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. This was at a time when young women were not welcomed into the United States Navy. It is worth noting that Cathy, my older brother Richard and our father Joseph Thomas were the first father-son-daughter graduates of the United States Naval Academy.

Cathy was very pretty, with beautiful red hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion, very athletic. full of fire, intelligence and a sense of fun. At the same time, she was an outstanding Naval Officer– her senior officers raved about her work and level of dedication — Cathy was serious about her work and her service to her country.

Cathy had attended Annapolis, graduated and then served in the Navy for 5 years. She had decided to leave the Navy after her obligation was up– Cathy felt the opportunities for women were too limited, and after coming out to our family as a lesbian, she knew that gay people were being pushed out of the Navy. This was before the “Don’s Ask, Don’t Tell” policy– gay people, especially women in the Navy, were being hounded out of the service and even sent to jail. She left the Navy in June 1986 and was working as a stockbroker in Virginia Beach when she and her girlfriend Rebecca, or Becky, were murdered a few months later.

At the time she died, Cathy was talking with us about leaving the Norfolk, Virginia area to go back to graduate school perhaps in the Washington, DC area. She had been a Russian scholar at the Naval Academy and was interested in international business. At the same time, I think Cathy was enjoying dating Becky and living her life as a gay woman in a more open fashion after 5 years of a pressure cooker environment of being lesbian in a place where her sexuality could have resulted in being kicked out of the Navy she so loved.

I am not sure exactly the last time I spoke with Cathy; it was a few weeks before she died, talking about plans for Thanksgiving.


(Ms. Cathleen Thomas)

In your own words, tell us, what does the term “Colonial Parkway Killer” refer to?

Well, first of all, we never refer to this case as the “Colonial Parkway Killer.” We always refer to it as the “Colonial Parkway Murders,” and I hope you will, too. I feel very strongly that we should focus on the victims, and not the killer or killers. There is a person or persons who are responsible for the brutal murder of four young couples. That’s where the focus belongs.

My focus has been on moving the case forward for the last 8 years, since a story broke in September 2009 that the FBI had lost control of 78 highly graphic crime scene photos in the Colonial Parkway Murders. After I accidentally discovered the story about the leaked photos, once I got over my initial flash of anger, I realized we could leverage the FBI’s embarrassment about the crime scene photos to force them to put some resources into what was then a 23 year old cold case. We have been successful, although we had to overcome some institutional resistance at the FBI. As the Assistant Special Agent in charge of the case for FBI Norfolk said to me in a moment of candor, “Your sister’s case is at the bottom of a very dusty pile.” I think we have managed to shake the dust off the Colonial Parkway Murders, even though the FBI has largely been redeployed as an anti-terrorism agency since 9/11.

What was the killer’s modus operandi?

According to law enforcement experts, the killer or killers seem to have approached these couples while they were parked in places that were known to be lover’s lanes. He seems to have approached the couples and gained control over them. Although the methods of killing vary, there are certain common threads in all four crime scenes. You see cars, parking couples, isolated rural locations near Williamsburg, limited sign of struggle, no robbery, no sexual assault. In some cases, windows are halfway down, and wallets are out. A number of experts say they feel like a traffic stop, as if the couples were approached by an “authority figure,” which could be someone in law enforcement or someone pretending to be a cop, a police imposter.

3 of the 4 Colonial Parkway Murders happened in the same 5 week “back to school” time frame between Labor Day and Columbus Day. Two of the murders occurred on 3 day holiday weekends. All of them happened likely between 10:00 pm and 2:00 am.

One of the odd things is that nothing in the forensics currently links the four crime scenes. Keep in mind that these murders occurred before DNA was in common use in murder investigations; so far, the FBI and Virginia State Police have not informed the families of any forensic link between the murders. The circumstances are very similar, and the chances are that some or all of the murders are related. The Norfolk-Hampton Roads-Williamsburg area of Virginia, sometimes called the Tidewater area, just isn’t that big. It would be very unlikely that these homicides are all unrelated.

It has been reported that there have been about 150 persons of interest in the Colonial Parkway Murders, but not a single arrest to date.


(The Colonial Parkway at night. Photo: The Virginian-Pilot)

Again in your own words: what happened to your sister Cathleen in 1986?

It seems like Cathy and Becky headed to the Colonial Parkway on a Thursday evening after working with two other friends on a class assignment at William and Mary, where Rebecca was a senior. They went out to eat, and probably drove to the Parkway to be alone. It looks like they were approached while parking in Cathy’s car, and the offender (s) managed to gain control of the two of them. Cathy and Becky were restrained, strangled with rope, and then their throats were cut from beyond ear; Cathy was essentially decapitated. The killer or killers then placed the two bodies in my sister’s small 1980 Honda Civic two door. Rebecca’s body was placed diagonally on the back seat, and Cathy was placed in the hatchback area, a fairly tight fit for someone who was 5 foot 7, 135-140 pounds.

The killer then made an attempt to set the Honda on fire with diesel fuel or perhaps kerosene, but was unable to set the fuel alight. One of the many odd details is the fuel. Who has access to diesel but doesn’t understand you cannot set it on fire with a match? Finally, after failing to set the car on fire, they pushed the manual transmission car over the edge of an embankment along the York River, where the car got caught in underbrush and did not enter the river. They think the car remained hidden from the Parkway for 2.5 days, likely from late Thursday night until Sunday afternoon, when a passerby saw the car close to the water and called it in as a traffic accident to the National Park Service rangers who patrolled the Colonial Parkway.

Cases still unsolved  Colonial Parkway Killings Haunt 20 Years Later

(Car belonging to Ms. Cathleen Thomas being investigated for clues)

Your sister was killed together with a young lady named Rebecca Ann Dowski. Who was she? Did you know her personally?

Rebecca Dowski was Cathy’s girlfriend. They had been dating since the spring of 1986, so they had been seeing each other for about 6 months or so. They had been introduced by my sister’s first girlfriend, who was taking a class with Becky at William and Mary. Becky was a senior, a transfer student from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, originally from Poughkeepsie, New York, where her father was a senior executive with IBM. Like Cathy, she was athletic, an excellent student and someone who also like to have fun. This would have been Becky’s first romantic relationship with a woman, and Cathy’s second lesbian relationship.

We had heard great things about Becky from Cathy. We were all excited to be meeting Becky that fall, likely at Thanksgiving dinner at my parent’s home in Lowell, Massachusetts. Sadly, that never happened.


(Ms. Rebecca Ann Dowski)

The killer stalked and murdered couples. Why?

Well, we are not sure. There have been a lot of theories. He/they may have done this an exercise in control, stopping couples and then deciding to kill them or not depending on what happened. They may have been a peeping tom type who escalated to murder, or had a problem with love or romance, or couples engaged in sex, something that might have been sinful in his eyes. Or there may have been other motivation– some of them could have been a low level drug deal gone bad, although that does not seem to fit all of the crime scene scenarios.

A persistent aspect of the case is the idea that the killer(s) may have been dressed as a police officer, or possibly even actually a member of the law enforcement community. Any thoughts?

It is quite possible that the killer or killers could be law enforcement or someone presenting as such.

What are your thoughts on the “two killers” hypothesis?

Larry McCann, a very skilled profiler for the Virginia State Police, developed a theory that there were two killers. He talked about about this theory quite a bit during joint FBI/VSP task force meetings in 1989/1990 and in media interviews since. Part of that theory sprung from the idea that it would be difficult for one person to control eight healthy, athletic young people. Larry could very well be right.

Last year, when I met with the FBI Norfolk/Newport News team for nine hours, they walked me through the crime scenes, and made a pretty compelling case for how one person could control four couples, modifying his techniques as he went along, killing four couples in three years.

Did this killer just suddenly emerge out of the darkness, or do you think he had killed (or made himself known in some other way) before 1986?

I am not sure about that. There have been theories that attempted to link other cases from 1984 to 2006, but I am not sure they really fit with the Colonial Parkway Murders.

One doesn’t need to be an FBI profiler to realize that the killer was a genuinely f**ked up individual. But beyond that, what kind of a person are we looking for? What did he do outside his killing sprees? Do you think he’s still alive?

I think the FBI in particular has a good sense of who they are looking for in the Colonial Parkway Murders. I don’t speak with the Virginia State Police as often since my sister’s case is handled by the FBI. I do think he is still alive, yes.

How does one get over the trauma of losing a loved one in this manner? What was the process like for you of coming through such a dark experience with your sanity intact? Did you seek help?

The truth is that I don’t think you really do ever get over losing someone this way. These young people were ages 14 to 27 years old, and how so much more of their lives ahead of them.  As my late mother Evelyn said, “It is out of the natural order of things,” for parents to be burying their children and not the other way around. It has been incredibly difficult, especially for me to see my own grief reflected in my family’s eyes, especially by brothers Jack and Richard and our parents.  You just learn to live with it.

I did see a therapist for a time while I lived in New York a few years after Cathy died. It was very helpful.
What advice would you give to other people who have gone through shocking events, and are dealing with the emotional and psychological aftermath?

I do think that you have to make a decision, not right away, but probably in the first few years after losing someone this way whether you are going to let this loss destroy you, or whether you are going to incorporate your grief into your life and find balance and some peace. Time helps, and counseling if you are open to it.

Sadly, I know there are people in the families of the Colonial Parkway Murders who did let this terrible thing destroy their lives. Drugs, alcohol, depression are all part of that. You can’t just lock it away, or your grief will eat you up from the inside.

That said, I want to make it clear that I have a joyful life. I have a wonderful family, a great relationship with my partner Pamela, a son Chris who is now 19 years old and a sophomore in college, a busy career, and lots of positive things for which I am very grateful. And my sister Cathy would be so annoyed if she thought that we had all let her death somehow define us. I can seem her slapping me on the head, gently, for such foolishness. She would say, “Laugh, and you better get on with it!”

Did your heart ever really heal, or did the pain subside enough to let you go on with your life?

I think time is the great healer. For a long time, I divided up the world into those who knew my sister Cathy and those who did not. Those that did know Cathy were members of a very special club that was no longer accepting members. In recent years, though, I have met people who have never met Cathy who seem to have very much affected by her life, which can be very moving. It is sort of an amazing tribute to this wonderful person Cathy they have never had the privilege of knowing. I feel lucky to have been one of her three brothers and to have know Cathy for 27 years. I think my brothers Richard and Jack and my father probably feel the same way.

If people want to help out with the investigation somehow, or become involved with helping victims of violent crimes and their families, where would you direct them?

We have three Facebook pages, the most active is “Colonial Parkway Murders.” They can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. My Twitter handle is BillThomas56, and they can search for the hashtag #colonialparkwaymurders. We also maintain a Wikipedia page, which we try to keep up to date, with a lot of links to media stories about the case. I am also working on a book about the case.

What is the status of the investigation as the year 2017 comes to a close?

The FBI and the Virginia State Police are both working their parts of the case actively. We are hoping that some advanced forensic testing will be approved, and that new tests will be conducted in early 2018.

FBI and Virginia State Police investigators are always looking for any new tips in the four double homicides, although many people contact us first and we put them in touch with the proper authorities.

Will the case be solved, in your opinion, and if it will, what is the element that will solve it? 

I am convinced that the Colonial Parkway Murders will be solved. Experts tell us that is a solvable case– there is still a lot of evidence to be tested and re-tested to state of the art forensic standards. 2018 is going to be our year. I think the tens of thousands of hours of law enforcement work coupled with new forensic testing testing will be the key.


(all the victims in the murders)

Is there anything further you would like to add?

Yes, I am working on the fourth draft of a new book, tentatively titled “Colonial Parkway Murders: My 31 Year Search for Our Sister’s Killer.” We hope to have the book out later in 2018. I just started showing the manuscript to a few literary agents, so we will see.

Finally, I just wanted to thank you, Teemu and all of the people who have interest in solving the case and support for the Colonial Parkway Murders families.

Happy Holidays!