Book review: American Kingpin, by Nick Bilton. Portfolio 2017.

american_kingpin

The Deep Web is a kind of “secret” part of the Internet only reachable by a special browser called Tor. The place is basically a digital reflection of the human id: illegal pornography, weird sexual fantasies (often including rape or other crimes), sick videos – it’s all right there.

A few years ago, a new site popped up there, seemingly out of nowhere: The Silk Road, a website that facilitated the buying and selling of drugs, guns, stolen software, stolen electronics, and the like. It became a hit overnight and, considering the nature of the goods changing hands through the site, a fresh nightmare for governments and law enforcement agencies. The anonymous nature of the Deep Web and the Tor browser made finding the creator of the site that much more difficult.

Despite the challenging premise, the creator of the site was ultimately captured. He turned out to be a brilliant young do-it-yourself libertarian named Ross Ulbricht, a physics whiz kid and self-taught computer genius who believed the government should not be able to regulate what people put in their bodies. He was running the multi-million dollar drug empire from a Samsung 700z laptop, borrowing wi-fi from local coffee shops in Austin, Texas and San Francisco, California.

This book tells the story of the creation of the website, and the efforts of the various law enforcement agents (from the DEA, Homeland Security and FBI, among others) to find the person behind the “Amazon of Drugs”.

Bilton is a master storyteller, and he knows the tech and start-up worlds well, having written about both before.

The portrait he paints of the young Ulbricht is vivid and alive, the story of a young man who believes he is making a difference in the world by challenging the government on its drug laws head-on. Whatever you might think of Ross Ulbricht, he had the guts to follow through on what he believed: instead of arguing on Twitter or lecturing his friends about the hypocracy of the “War on Drugs”, he built something of his own, and left a lasting impression on the world, for better or for worse.

American Kingpin also succeeds in balancing the stories of the agents on Ulbricht’s trail with the rest of the narrative. Determined, inventive, and loyal to the very government the Silk Road challenged, they worked around the clock to dig up “Dread Pirate Roberts” (Ulbricht’s user name on the Silk Road) from the murky waters of the Deep Web. In presenting these agents as human beings too, Bilton evokes the theme of loyalty vs. rebellion towards authority, an age-old question that gets a fresh treatment between the pages of this book.

An enjoyable read that tells an unforgettable true crime story, while at the same time sophisticating the reader with regard to Internet security, digital crime, and the battle between libertarian political philosophy versus governmental institutions.

Grade: 4.5/5

 

 

 

 

Interview with Mauri Karvonen, researcher of Finnish ghost stories. (Suomeksi alempana)

Mauri Karvonen is a Finnish researcher and historian who specialuzes in stories of ghosts and haunted houses. He has released a book entitled Aavetaloja ja ihmiskohtaloita (“Haunted Houses and Human Fates”). A sequel to the book will be released next month.

Thank you Mauri for taking the time to talk to Books, Bullets and Bad Omens!


 

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1.) Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is Mauri Karvonen and I live in Jyväskylä, Finland at the moment. I have a Master’s degree in Finnish history. I work as a historian, writer and researcher of paranormal topics. Of course, my work entails lots of other things as well, like lecturing and doing readings as an author.

My hobbies are cycling, swimming, exploring the outdoors, reading, history, culture and traveling, mostly within Finland.

2) How did you end up writing about haunted houses?

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in old buildings, their history and the people who lived in them. Ghost stories have been an elemental part of this wider interest. That’s how it all got started for me. Over the years I’ve visited hundreds, if not thousands of houses that are said to be haunted.

Before graduating from university in 2014 I started thinking about what I should write about. That’s when I got the idea of combining my hobby with my profession, and ended up writing about haunted houses.

3) Are you interested in paranormal topics in general, or just ghosts?

Ghosts and haunted houses are my number 1 interest, but I’m interested in all kinds of mysteries, as well as UFOs.

4) Tell us about the process of researching and writing your book! Is it hard to find people who will open up about this subject to you?

The process begins with generating an interesting idea and establishing a contact with it. Each of my books has 12 houses. Then I start a process of light background research that entails looking into the history of a location, it’s people and ghost stories. Next, I visit the location myself to look for sources of information and take photographs. I take both daytime and night time photos. I also try to spend a night at the location I plan to write about.

While at a location, I also try to interview people. Finding people who will talk to you is usually fairly easy, since a particular story can’t really be connected with a particular source, so informants are able to maintain their anonymity. They usually speak very openly once they’ve warmed up. I’ve noticed that people have become more and more open about these [paranormal] topics, at least when they talk to us professionals.

5) What is the history of Finnish ghost stories like? Is there something different about them compared to ghost stories from other countries?

Ghost stories have been told in Finland for hundreds of years; they used to be a popular form of entertainment. The oldest story featured in my books is from the 1200s, I think.

The tradition of ghost stories is fairly uniform across the globe, and the stories are fairly similar everywhere, though I want to stress that each story is unique in itself.

6) What types of houses does the haunting lore attach itself to? Old mansions, that sort of a thing?

Yes, mostly old historical places like castles, theaters, mansions etc., but stories are told about new buildings, too. I myself research only historical buildings and their stories.

7) The term “ihmiskohtaloita” (“human fates”) is included in the title of your book. What types of “human fates” does one find behind ghost stories and stories of haunted houses?

There is usually a sad human story behind a ghost tale, but there are also happy incidents and fates. There doesn’t always have to be a murder or an accident or anything like that for a story to live on. Take, for example, the story of Märtha Rosenlaw and the Vanajanlinna Castle, from my first book.

My main interest is, indeed, the people behind the stories of haunted houses and ghosts. I sometimes jokingly say that my job is private detective work in the world of history and ghost stories.

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8) Do you have a favorite ghost story?

I’m interested in all different kinds of stories. I know hundreds of them, so I don’t really have any one favorite. I’d say I’m most affected by stories related to children and child ghosts.

9) How does the haunting phenomenon “work”, in your opinion? Do you believe there is a genuine supernatural force behind it, or something else?

Because I only research stories, I have not really researched the phenomenon itself. To put it bluntly, I would say that perhaps ghosts have some sort of unfinished business on Earth, making them return to the world of the living, if they ever left it in the first place.

There are some views according to which ghosts consists of different kinds of energies. It’s also said that ghosts are humans who never realized they died, and think they are still alive. Other ghosts, on the other hand, may have gotten “stuck” here on Earth, unable to live after their death, while still others cross the border between life and death every now and then, and come back to visit the living.

10) Have you yourself ever experienced anything paranormal?

I have seen so many of these haunted houses during my life that it’s inevitable that I’ve come across paranormal incidents myself as well. 95 percent of such incidents have a natural explanation, but then there’s the remaining 5 percent that is left without a rational basis. So I’m “skeptically curious” *smile*

11) You will soon release a sequel to your book. Tell us about it!

“Aavetaloja ja ihmiskohtaloita 2 – Hyytävä matka Suomen historiaan jatkuu” (“Haunted Houses and Human Fates 2- the creepy journey to the history of Finland continues”) will come out in May. Compared to the first book, the stories in this sequel are collected from a wider geographical spectrum. The sequel also makes more of a use of archives, interviews and other source materials. In keeping with the spirit of my books, I’ve placed great emphasis on versatility.

Because this year marks the 100th anniversary of Finland’s civil war, I’ve also researched stories related to it. War in general features more heavily in the stories in this sequel.

12) Where can people keep up with your work and buy your books?

The best way to follow my work is through my Facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/aavetalojajaihmiskohtaloita

So go ahead and take a peek at my work, and leave a “Like”!

My books are available in all kinds of bookstores, both physical and web stores. If you want a copy with my signature, you can order directly through my site. You can also follow my work in the media, and I am available for lectures if you’re interested in holding your own event.

13) Is there anything you’d like to add that I forgot to ask about?

All is well 🙂

And finally, my regular questions.

14) Your top 3 films?

1) Downfall (2004)

2) Braveheart (1995)

3) Käsky (2008, English title “Tears of April”)

15) Your top 3 books?

1) Suomen kartanoita (“Finland’s Mansions”) by Dahl & Gardberg

2) Ammattina vankikarkuri (“Profession: Prison Escapee”) by Jan Jalutsi

3) Hävittäkää Helsinki! (“Destroy Helsinki!”) by Antero Raevuori

16) What model phone do you use?

Some very old piece of junk by Huawei.


1) Kuka olet? Kerro hieman itsestäsi!

Nimeni on Mauri Karvonen ja asun Jyväskylässä tällä hetkellä. Koulutukseltani on FM, Suomen historian asiantuntija. Työskentelen historian- ja rajatiedontutkijana sekä kirjailijana. Työhöni kuuluu toki paljon muutakin kuten esim. Luennot ja kirjailijavierailut. Harrastan pyöräilyä, uintia, ulkoilua, lukemista, historiaa, kulttuuria ja matkustelua lähinnä kotimaassa. 

2) Kuinka päädyit kirjoittamaan aavetaloista?

Olen ollut lapsesta asti kiinnostunut vanhoista rakennuksista, niiden historiasta ja siellä eläneistä ihmisistä. Niitä olellinen osa on ollut kummitustarinat. Siitä kaikki on lähtenyt liikkeelle. Vuosien saatossa olen kiertänyt satoja ellen tuhansia paikkoja joissa väitetään kummittelevan. Ennen valmistumistani yliopistosta (2014) aloin miettimään mitä alkaisin kirjoittamaan kun se eniten kiinnosti. Sitten sain idean yhdistää ammatti ja harrastus ja näin päädyin kirjoittamaan aavetaloista.

3) Oletko kiinnostunut yliluonnollisista ilmiöistä ylipäätään, vai ainoastaan aaveista?

Kyllä ykkösenä tulee aaveet ja ennenkaikkea aavetarinat. Toki olen aina ollut kiinnostunut kaikenlaisista mysteereistä ja ufoista. 

4) Kerro kirjan kirjoitusprosessista. Millaista sitä oli tutkia ja kirjoittaa? Oliko haastateltavia helppoa löytää? Puhuivatko ihmiset yleisesti ottaen teemasta avoimesti, vai välttelivätkö aave-aihetta jonkinlaisen leimaantumisen pelossa?

Prosessi lähtee liikenteeseen mielenkiintoisen kohteen löytämisellä ja sen kontaktoimisella. Jokaisessa kirjassa on 12 kohdetta. Sitten aloitan kevyen taustatutkimuksen liittyen paikan historiaan, ihmisiin joita siellä on elänyt ja aavetarinoihin. Seuraavaksi menen paikan päälle tutustumaan paikkaan, etsimään lähteitä ja kuvaamaan. Kuvaan sekä yöllä, että päivällä. Pyrin myös yöpymään paikan päällä. Samalle kertaa yleensä haastattelen ihmisiä suunnitelman mukaan. Kyllä haastateltavat on yleensä helppo löytää. Tiettyä tarinaa kun ei pysty yhdistämään tietyn henkilön kertomaksi. Kyllä puhuvat aiheesta avoimesti kunhan ollaan päästy alkuun. Olen huomannut, että aiheesta jutellaan entistä avoimemmin, ainakin meille ammattilaisille.

5) Millainen on suomalaisten kummitustarinoiden historia? Onko niissä jotakin erityistä/erilaista verrattuna vaikkapa ulkomaiden kertomusperinteeseen?

Kummitustarinoita on kerrottu Suomessa satoja vuosia, olihan ne muinaisten aikojen viihdykettäkin. Kirjasarjani kakkososassa vanhin tarina taisi olla 1200-luvulta. Kertomusperinne on aika samanlainen ympäri maailman ja tarinat ovat samankaltaisia, mutta kuitenkin painotan, että jokainen tarina on kuitenkin uniikki.

6) Millaisiin taloihin kummitteluiden/aaveiden folklore kiinnittyy? Vanhat kartanot tms?

Kyllä kärkipäässä on ns. historialliset paikat kuten linnat, teatterit, kartanot jne, mutta kyllä tarinoita kerrotaan ihan uusistakin rakennuksista. Itse toki tutkin vain historiallisia kohteita ja niiden tarinoita. 

7) Kirjasi nimessä esiintyy termi “ihmiskohtaloita”. Millaisia ihmiskohtaloita kummittelujen taustalta löytyy?

Kyllä tarinan taakse usein kätkeytyy, joku surullinen ihmiskohtalo, mutta myös iloisia tapahtumia ja kohtaloita. Aina ei siis tarvi olla murha, onnettomuus tms, että tarina on jäänyt elämään. Tästä esimerkkinä vaikkapa Märtha Rosenlewin tarina Vanajanlinnasta, joka on ykkösosassa. Tutkin nimenomaan oikeita ihmisiä tarinoiden taustalta ja onko niitä. Olen leikilläni sanonut, että tämä on salapoliisityötä historian ja aavetarinoiden maailmassa.

8) Onko sinulla suosikkitarinaa kummitustarinoiden alueelta?

Itseäni kiinnostaa kaikki mahdolliset tarinat. Tiedän satoja tarinoita, joten ei ole yksittäistä suosikkia. Itseäni ehkä eniten koskettaa lapsiin tai lapsihaamuihin liittyvät tarinat ja kohtalot.

9) Miten kummitteluilmiö syntyy? Uskotko että sen takana on aito yliluonnollinen voima, vai jotakin muuta?

Koska tutkin vain tarinoita niin en ole itse ilmiötä niinkään tutkinut. Lyhyesti ja ytimekkäästi itse ilmiöstä sanoisin, että kenties aaveella on jäänyt täällä jokin asia kesken, että pitää palata elävien maailmaan tai sitten ei malta lähteä kuotuaankaan. On olemassa yleisiä käsityksiä kuten, että aaveet ovat erilaisia energioita. Kerrotaan myös, että aaveet eivät tajuaisi itse olevansa kuolleita vaan elävänsä edelleen. Toiset taas on jääneet tänne puolelle “jumiin” ja toiset palaa rajan takaa takaisin silloin tällöin.

10) Oletko itse koskaan kokenut mitään yliluonnollista?

Olen niin monta paikkaa elämäni aikana, että kyllä väkisin on vastaan tullut jotain yliluonnollista. 95% ilmiöille löytyy luonnollinen selitys, mutta sitten onkin jäljellä se 5% mille ei löydy selitystä. Olen siis skeptisen utelias.:D 

11) Julkaiset pian jatkoa kirjallesi. Kerro hieman mitä on odotettavissa?

Kirjasarjani saa jatkoa tosiaan pian. Aavetaloja ja ihmiskohtaloita osa 2. – Hyytävä matka Suomen historiaan jatkuu- ilmestyy toukokuussa. Ensimmäiseen osaan verrattuna on kohteet enemmän ympäri Suomea. Kirjassa on myös enemmän hyödynnetty lähdemateriaalia, arkistoja ja haastateltavia. Olen panostanut kirjasarjan perinteitä silmällä pitäen myös monipuolisuuteen. Koska tänä vuonna tulee kuluneeksi Suomen sisällissodasta 100 vuotta olen tutkinut ja kirjoittanut aiheesta kohteiden ympärillä. Muutenkin nostin enemmän esille myös sotahistoriaa enemmän verrattuna ekaan osaan. 

12) Missä ihmiset voivat seurata työtäsi ja ostaa kirjojasi?

Parhaiten työtäni voi seurata kirjasarjani facebook-sivuila: http://www.facebook.com/ aavetalojajaihmiskohtaloita  Joten käykäähän kurkkaamassa ja tykkäämässä sivusta. Kirjojani voi ostaa kirjakaupoista, verkkokaupoista ja jos vaikka omistuskirjoituksen haluaa niin suoraan minulta sivujen kautta. Työtäni voi myös seurata mediassa ja luennoilla. Ps. Minut saa myös tilata luentokeikalla minne vain.;)

13) Unohdinko kysyä jotakin oleellista? Kerro siitä tässä!

Kaikki hyvin.:)

Ja loppuun vakiokysymykset, jotka esitän kaikille haastateltaville:

14) Top 3 elokuvasi?

Perikato
Braveheart
Käsky

15) Top 3 kirjasi?

Suomen kartanoita-Dahl Kaj/Gardberg C.J
Ammattina vankikarkuri-Jalutsi Jan
Hävittäkää Helsinki!-Raevuori Antero

16) Minkä mallin puhelinta käytät? (Olen puhelimia keräilevä tekniikkanörtti :))

Joku erittäin vanha Huawein romu.

Interview with Kat Winters, author of Case Files of the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer.

Kat Winters is an American writer who just released the best, most comprehensive book on the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer case. Below is my interview with her.

Thank you Kat for taking the time to talk with Books, Bullets and Bad Omens!


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Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is Kat Winters. I’m a project manager and a consultant by day and a writer by night. My book Case Files of the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer just came out a month or two ago, and it’s about the strangest, most intense serial killer case that I’ve ever heard of.

How and where did you first come across the story of this killer?

Oh, it seems like an eternity now, but I’ve only been aware of this case for a couple of years. I first heard about it at dinner with my father and a friend of his, who is this really famous cold case detective. And we were talking about some of the work he’d done, and I was hanging on every word because I’ve always been fascinated by this stuff, and he started talking about the East Area Rapist case. He’d consulted on that in the past. And I know California pretty well and I’m there a lot so this became pretty vivid in my mind as he described it. Some time went by and I finally researched it and I just kept getting deeper and deeper into it. It got under my skin big time.

What captured your attention about the case?

The sheer scale of it. Nearly fifty rapes? Ten or more murder victims? Five hundred miles covered? Are you for real? Why are we obsessed with Zodiac when we’ve got this guy? Why isn’t this a household name? Everything about it seemed unreal to me. It still does.

At what point did the idea of writing a book come to you?

Writing a book about this, or at least spearheading the project was like, not even an idea on the table until a few months ago. I just didn’t even fathom it. I’d been collecting the facts and verifying and organizing for several months, but those things were all going on a website. I kept having these conversations with people about demographics and target audiences of the website and you know, this case is forty years old and not everybody in that age group is going onto the internet to read things, so the chances of knocking that clue loose in someone’s memory was kind of slim on the web. It was helping people do research and stuff but I’ve always envisioned it as being multipurpose. So I grudgingly began to accept the fact that we needed something made of dead trees. A book was the perfect vehicle for getting all of the facts into a chronological state and making them accessible to more people. It was a natural progression from the website. The case is so complex, it just needed a book like this. It didn’t have one. And I had the feeling in my gut that I could pull this off so I knew I was in for it, but I started taking those steps.

What was the process of writing the book like?

Excruciating! The subject matter is so dark and there are so many details. Every sentence had to be fact-checked rigorously. When you’re talking about 186,000 words, that’s a lot of work. But the benefit of getting all of this information out there outweighed the cost of my time and my sanity, so I did it. And when the process became difficult and I started to falter, the words of the victims inspired me to keep going. I brought in a cowriter to help me to the finish line and to give me perspective. He saved it. He’s the unsung hero in this. So many other people helped as well. Investigation is a team sport.

Did you meet with survivors and detectives on this case while doing research for the book? What was that like? Did any of the meetings prove particularly meaningful?

Yes, this was the highlight! I have to say, I’m so moved and inspired by the amount of heart and soul that investigators put into this case. This isn’t or wasn’t just a job for them. This case has left a mark on their lives, something you can feel in their writing and see on their faces. Interviewing victims and witnesses was heavy, too. I didn’t really go looking for them. They reached out through the website. So most of them were already familiar with my work in some capacity, so it was easy to explain where I was coming from and what I was doing, and when they expressed gratitude and we talked about what all of this meant, it was so moving. Like, this is what it’s for, you know? Later, those times when I was at my desk feeling used up and trying to get through another chapter, thoughts of them inspired me and motivated me.

When it came to memorable or meaningful time, well, honestly they all had such a profound effect on me. They’re all so different and everyone has been affected in different ways. With a few of the survivors and witnesses, my heart really broke when they relayed how much fear they’ve had to live in. Sometimes suffering in silence, and we know a lot more about trauma and PTSD and stuff like that now, but having a word for it doesn’t make it go away. I’m tearing up just thinking out it. One woman in particular, a sibling of an early victim, has been corresponding with me for several months. We really dove deep into how this affected her family. And as I’m writing the book, I’m thinking, am I even doing this right? I set out to make a book that was only facts and sightings and was held to the same standards as like a master textbook on the subject. That goal was still important to me, but as we were finishing up I couldn’t help but start to add some of these stories in. It was hard because a lot of survivors and witnesses are understandably very private, you know, like I mentioned, the effects are still there. They’ve all moved on and conquered life but this just isn’t a subject that warms them. So a lot of those stories were just between us. But I started putting the heart of the survivors into the book and adding the human element. There’s the story of the cop whose sister-in-law was killed by the East Area Rapist and he the challenges he faced in caring for his brother. The story of the man whose brother and sister-in-law were killed and he spent hours trying to clean up the blood stain that his sister-in-law’s body left. Heavy stuff. It’s not all losses though, we’ve got some wins. Because of the work of a murder victim’s brother, California can now collect the DNA of violent felons, and tons of other cases have been solved. There’s the story of a mother who literally beat the hell out of the rapist before he could attack her daughters. There’s a twelve-year-old that was attacked and no matter what he did, the rapist couldn’t intimidate her. Even hearing about families that stayed together or banded together after the attack or hearing about women who were able to move past it, those are big wins and I’m still like, processing all of that. They still inspire me.

One of the things I loved about your book was that you included strange incidents (sightings of unknown people, weird phone calls etc.) preceding and following the EAR’s attacks, whereas us true crime aficionados often concentrate only on the attacks of serial killers. Can you relay a few of those strange incidents for us?

There are so many! I felt that it was important to include them because a very interesting timeline begins to develop and we can trace his movements. But yeah, some strange ones. There’s one where a suspicious man was dressed in a costume and a cane and he was right by the area of two attacks within the general timeframe. There’s one where a masked man pulls a bicycle out of a dump truck trailer and speeds off. There’s a real early one that might be him where he shouts “Can’t I take a leak in peace?” when he’s discovered in a yard. Sometimes when he was spotted he’d just stand and stare. Other times he’d run away. You know, assuming these sightings are all of him. They might be, or they might not be. I included the most likely ones and it’s clear why they’re likely. There were a whole bunch that I didn’t because the timing or the geography was just too off. I had to draw the line somewhere. After an attack, almost every neighbor had something strange to report.

Another aspect of the case I hadn’t really thought of before reading the book was this: on a few occasions, more than one suspicious person was spotted near a crime scene before an attacks. Can you tell us a bit about this? Do you think the EAR had an accomplice?

It’s hard to think of a guy like this having a partner or a lookout or something. This was a personal thing that he was doing and he wasn’t stealing enough for two people to get a good cut, so you have to wonder what would be in it for someone else if they helped him. A brother or close friend or something might make sense. There isn’t overwhelming evidence that he had help. The crime scenes only had one set of footprints, and no one ever saw two men together at a confirmed attack. Still, there were burglaries and prowlers who would be seen in pairs a couple days or weeks before an attack, and then a nearby house would be hit by the East Area Rapist. It happened a few times, enough times to raise eyebrows. There was one attack where the victims were sure that the rapist was inside, but someone was ringing the doorbell and then knocking on the window. It’s a nagging thing that won’t go away because it’s impossible to know for sure. Did he have help occasionally? You know, the way I wrote this is that I lay out all the facts, and I don’t tell you what to think. I’ll point things out and show you clear patterns, but my opinion doesn’t mean anything so I don’t put my opinion in the book. Not really. I let the facts tell the story, and the reader can decide if there’s something going on with an accomplice or not.

Though all of the EAR’s crimes were horrifying, the murder of Janelle Cruz has always bothered me… We obviously don’t have definitive answers (yet!), but could you speculate: Why did the killer come out of hiding for that one last murder? Why Janelle? 

It’s so strange that he would offend on a regular basis and then stop for five years, then do it again, and then stop, right? What happened there? Did he skip town and commit crimes somewhere else? And Janelle Cruz was killed in that same area as one of the other murders. Why come back to the same place? Or did he ever leave? There are so many questions and I try not to speculate too much because I feel like I have a responsibility to just stick to what we know for sure, so that people who follow my work don’t get fact and fiction intermingled.

janelle

(Janelle Lisa Cruz)

There has for a long time been speculation that there was some sort of a hospital connection to the crimes. Can you tell us a bit about this?

Over fifty percent of his victims had a direct connection to the medical or dental field. That’s statistically significant. There were a lot of doctors in the houses he attacked, and nurses, medical students, people who had just undergone a procedure or a major surgery, people who worked at a pharmacy, and so on. One of the things we wonder is if there was a way that he was selecting victims through the medical industry. You know, was that his career? What can these facts tell us? We still don’t know for sure, but it’s important to note these patterns.

Another thing your book taught me was that there is some evidence to suggest that the killer may have been alive as late as 2001. Can you elaborate a bit?

The killer loved the phone. He would call rape victims before an attack and sometimes threaten them, sometimes he would call them after an attack, and sometimes he would call them years later. That’s one of the ways he made his presence known and scared his victims. Well, in 1982, during the five year break that he took, there was a big article about him published. Several days later, he called up one of his former victims with threats. She knew immediately that it was him. The same thing happened later, in 2001. Some big articles ran about the DNA from his rape cases being tied to DNA from all of these murders, and this was a huge day, it was the day that we learned that these murders in one part of the state were the work of the serial rapist in another part of the state. Well, the next day, he called up another victim. This was the first time he’d been heard from in ten years, so this was a big thing. And this call came twenty five years after her attack. Police believe firmly that he was still alive in 2001 and he could still be alive today.

The FBI recently became involved in the investigation. What is the current status of the case? Is it actively investigated?

Getting the FBI involved in 2016 was an adrenaline shot, and ever since then things have been on an upswing. There are more resources, and there’s more effort put into publicizing the case, and there’s more potential for fancier technology to be used in the case. It’s definitely being investigated in an active way, and it was even before the FBI became involved. Roughly twelve different jurisdictions were hit by this offender, and most of them have never closed the books on him. There are new suspects being tested on DNA all the time, there are great leads being followed, some new computer models are being applied and some of the results from those are already coming back. More things are known about this offender than ever before, and there’s more coordination to find him. It’s an old case, but it’s not a cold case.

fbiphoto

(FBI press conference regarding the EAR/GSK. Photo credit Sacramento Bee)

What do you think, will the case ever be solved?

I’m one hundred percent sure it’ll be solved someday, since we have the DNA profile of the offender. Someday forensic genealogy will become a click it and ticket type of a deal. In fact, this case could be solved today with one of the larger private DNA databases, but there are a lot of legal and ethical questions surrounding those. When it comes to solving the case the traditional way and not relying on a family hit through DNA, I’m optimistic. If the current efforts and resource allocations keep up, then it’s really only a matter of time. How much time, I don’t know and couldn’t even guess. I hope it’s before the victims and witnesses pass on. They deserve closure and justice.

What’s next for you?

The East Area Rapist and Golden State Killer case is something I’ll always be working on in some capacity. I’ve changed gears and now that I’ve done the grunt work of collecting and verifying all of this information about him, and I’m turning energy toward some leads and some technology projects that will help move things forward. I’m a little awkward when it comes to advocating for the case, but my co-author is splendid at it, so he’s been going out and doing some of the television shows and speaking engagements and all of that.

With other stuff, I’m either a slow learner or a glutton for punishment, but I have another book in the works. I have to wait for a few more stars to align before serious writing begins so that’s all I’ll say for now, but writing is such an empowering and productive feeling even though it drains me. I can do good in this world through my words, and I feel a calling, so that’s what I’m trying to do.

Where can people keep up with you and your work?

Kat’s Blog: http://coldcasewriter.com/
Kat’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/coldcasewriter
EAR/GSK Website: https://www.coldcase-earons.com/
The book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B075X3G5SD/

Thank you, Teemu! I hope you and your readers spend some time learning about this incredible case, so they can celebrate with us when it’s finally solved!

 

Interview with Debbi Domingo, serial killer survivor

The East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker (nowadays also known as the Golden State Killer) was an American serial murderer and sexual predator who raped at least 50 women, and murdered at least 12 people. He was active in California from around 1976 until 1986. He remains unidentified.

The criminal had a unique mode of operation. He would stake out a neighborhood and choose a house occupied by a lone female or a couple. He would then wait for the night to fall and enter the residence in the dark, wake up his victim(s), tie them up and rape the female. In the early 1980s he began to kill his victims after the rape and home invasion.

In July 1981 he killed Cheri Domingo and Gregory Sanchez – the mother of Debbi Domingo and her mother’s boyfriend.

Debbi very graciously agreed to an interview with Books, Bullets and Bad Omens. Thank you, Debbi, and let’s hope 2018 is the year this serial killer is finally caught!


debbi

1) Who are you? Where are you from? Tell us your story!

My parents named me Debbi Domingo. I always felt my name had a sing-songy quality about it, that I was never really crazy about, but I’ve grown to love it.

I was raised primarily in Southern California in the 1960’s-70’s. I had a very comfortable childhood. No, that’s an understatement. I had a wonderful childhood! I never lacked anything I needed, be it material things, personal interaction, education, music, spiritual guidance, LOVE….. My Mom & Dad really nurtured my brother and me. And it’s not like they set out on some special mission to “be good parents.” That’s just who they were!

2) What was your childhood like?

In my early years, Dad was a preacher, and then a teacher. Mom stayed at home. We had close relatives with whom we spent lots of time. I knew lots of cousins, aunts & uncles, grandparents…. Even great-grandparents! As a kid I read a lot, and sang and danced. My brother and I did crafts, built forts, produced puppet shows, etc. We weren’t much of a sports family, but we liked bicycling, the ocean and the outdoors.

3) What was your mother like?

Mom was beautiful, smart, charming, conscientious, and very considerate of others. She taught us to be givers; to always be grateful and to try to do nice things for other people.

debbi greg

4) How did Mr. Greg Sanchez come into your lives?

My Mom & Dad separated and divorced when I was in 5th grade. Mom was doing secretarial work at Burroughs Corporation (huge computer manufacturer in Goleta, CA) and that’s where she met Greg. They dated off & on for the better part of the next 3-4 years. Greg was such nice guy, and fun to be around. He was always good to my mom, my brother and I.

5) Like so many young people and their parents, you and your mother were going through some turmoil at the time of her death. If I may ask, what was the turmoil over?

Nothing very important. Just basic teenage rebellion over things like rules, curfews, cigarettes, and boys!

6) We’ve all heard the story of the EAR/ONS through television shows and books, but a big part of why I wanted to interview you is because I want the voices of those who lived through this killer’s active period to be heard. So in your words, based on what you’ve heard from the police and your own knowledge of the house etc., what went down that night? How did it all happen?

Mom and Greg had not been seeing each other for a few months, but as near as I can figure, Greg came by the house and ended up staying overnight. I believe the killer had already staked out the house, removed the screen from the master bathroom window, and unlocked the door from the outside into that bathroom. I believe he entered that bathroom and stayed silent, perhaps waiting for my mom and Greg to finish making love and fall asleep. Then he entered the bedroom and began his assault. He and Greg scuffled, and Greg was shot once in the face. My mother was bound very tightly at the wrists and with her ankles tied up behind her buttocks. Greg was beaten to death, as was my mom, with some type of wrench or garden tool. Also, at some point the killer ejaculated onto the bedspread. That’s where the DNA sample was found in 2011, which finally ended up linking my mom & Greg’s killings into the EAR/GSK series.

composites

(Composite sketches of the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer)

7) Where were you when you heard?

I was staying with a girlfriend in Santa Barbara. My mom’s closest friend (who was a neighbor) saw the police activity at our house. She tracked me down and convinced me to come home.

8) In following the news and watching TV, we only ever hear of the perpetrators of crimes, but rarely hear of what happens to victims’ families AFTER the crimes of those perpetrators. So tell us, what happened after the death of your mother and Mr. Sanchez? How does one cope with a shattering loss like that?

I immediately moved to my Dad & step-mom’s house in San Diego, so I was pretty disconnected from the investigation, the media, the neighborhood, even my friends. I just went on with life; attending high school and church. Acting out a bit more I suppose. I adapted to life at my Dad’s house, but just barely. Honestly, I didn’t cope well at all. In fact, I really just suppressed everything for a very long time. I had been raised to trust God, but after the murders, I really struggled with that, and I gradually stepped away from my faith. I ended up on a really long journey of depression, drug addiction and hopelessness. I was lost for a very long time.

9) Does the heart ever heal? Or does the pain just subside enough to allow one to live on?

To be honest, I didn’t even begin to heal until I started to learn about the investigation and to participate. Being active in the pursuit has done wonders for me. It’s given me more of a sense of purpose. Not just to find answers for myself, but to help the other victims & survivors. It’s very therapeutic! I still miss my Mom and Greg, but now I’m able to say that out loud and do something productive with the loss.

10) Do you personally have a “favorite” suspect?

No. None at all, in fact. I am not an investigator by any definition, and do not even look into persons-of-interest (POIs.) I probably should, but I don’t.

11) Did your mother and Mr. Sanchez know the killer, in your opinion?

I highly doubt it.

12) In recent years, you and Michelle Cruz, sister of Janelle Cruz (GSK victim) have formed a dynamic duo. How important is the peer support in a case like this?

Are you kidding? Michelle Cruz has become like family to me! She and I fill a very important void for each other and it’s remarkable. We’ve also been blessed by close friendships with Jane Carson-Sandler and Margaret Wardlow, two of the rape survivors. There’s another survivor we’re starting to get to know, as well. Hoping to meet more! The unity really does make us stronger!

debbi michelle

13) Do you guys have anything planned together? A book would be very interesting.

I hadn’t really considered a book. But Jane and I have talked about all of us doing some public speaking together. We’d need to find a really top-notch agent who could broker engagements for us.

(Do you know of one, dear reader? Contact Debbi in the links below if you do. -Admin)

14) What’s going on with the case in 2017? I imagine this would be the kind of case all detectives and true crime authors (not to mention amateur detectives) want to solve.

I firmly believe that the combination of nationwide publicity and advances in DNA technology will bring the resolution to this case! Whether it will be this year or not is yet to be seen, but I am confident that this case will be solved. We just need for as many people as possible to learn about the case and share information to help identify him.

15) What’s your life like now?

I actually live a pretty low-key, happy life. I am married to a wonderful man of faith who takes good care of me and makes me smile. We have 5 grown children and 5 grandchildren who make my life worthwhile. I work full-time, volunteer at church, and try to spend time with family & friends. But as you can imagine, I devote the majority of my free time to keeping up with the case and trying to raise public awareness about the search for the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer.

16) What’s in your future?

They say you should visualize what you want. Set goals and achieve them. My goal- the picture I keep in my mind- is to be in a California courtroom when the GSK goes down. I want to be able to shake hands and hug everyone who has helped to identify him. That’s how I see my future. Once that happens, I’ll find something else worthwhile to work on. 😉

Teemu,

Thanks for this opportunity.
I hope you can include the following links:

www.facebook.com/whoistheoriginalnightstalker

Official EAR/GSK Channel

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3rsj-RtvNy4wVGjI2iNpBA

My personal channel

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqhzzbvXR8z5PsdbCrDTzeQ?view_as=subscriber

Writing to a serial killer. A brief “memoir”.

For a suburban kid like me who grew up in a safe neighborhood surrounded by predictable events, evil occasionally seems so intangible. It feels like something that happens somewhere far away, and the only access I have to studying it are books, films and documentaries, flickering images on a screen or printed words on a page.

At one point around 2009, I was overcome with an almost obsessive need to have something “tangibly evil” in my hand. I suddenly understood fan girls who will rip the shirts off of their favorite singers just to get a piece of canvas, something physical to hold and touch. I sometimes wonder if they don’t go to such extremes in a desperate effort to somehow explain their obsession to themselves: “This piece of shirt/this autograph will help me explain what’s going on in my mind if I just meditate on it hard enough!

One thing is for certain, though: those were my thoughts in the Summer of 2009, when I picked up a pen and wrote a letter to serial killer Richard Ramirez.

ramirez_108a

For those of you who don’t know who he was, Ramirez was a brutal serial killer who murdered 14 people in California in the early 1980s. His modus operandi included breaking into his victims’ homes in the middle of the night and killing them – hence his famous nickname “The Night Stalker”. He was caught in 1985 and sentenced to death, but due to a long delay of some sort ended up dying of natural causes in prison in 2013.

Looking up his address on the internet was relatively easy – the guy had actually placed an ad for a pen pal on a site called lostvault.com. His ad was easy-going and to-the-point, as though written by a surfer dude looking for other cool dudes and dames to hang out with over summer. If you had only read the ad without looking up the name of the person who had placed it, you may have believed the guy was in prison for some minor crime, like stealing a car maybe, or getting caught with marijuana in his pockets.

The first letter I wrote to him was a long, rambling biography of myself. I wasn’t particularly careful in relaying details of my personal life, but then again, if Ramirez would have managed to bust out of prison, it’s pretty unlikely he would have ended up in Finland… The letter was a fairly typical one for someone who hadn’t written too many letters before: a long monologue where one feels as though every single thing about everything needs to be told in that one letter; since then, I have grown much more patient, and more cognizant of the fact that the point of correspondence is longevity – everything doesn’t need to be written onto one letter. The back-and-forth nature of correspondence is part of the enjoyment.

Anyways, I put the letter in the mail, expecting homicidal psychopath Ramirez to be so enchanted by the details of my suburban student life that he would no doubt reply to my letter immediately.

Didn’t happen. A response didn’t arrive at all.

I’m generally not the kind of person who tries once and gives up. Quite the opposite, in fact: for me, a “No” is just a step on the way to a “Yes”. So I decided to do some research and write again.

I read Philip Carlo’s excellent book The Night Stalker with the mindset of looking for clues as to what might get a response from Ramirez. My initial plan after reading the book was to pretend to be a Satanist (which Ramirez himself was) and write a letter praising the Lord of the Underworld, and recounting all kinds of made-up evil deeds I had done. I sketched just such a letter, complete with inverted crosses and references to Milton’s Paradise Lost.

When I read the letter out loud to myself, I burst into laughter. It was hilarious. Hilariously stupid.

Though I had wasted my time drafting it (anybody with half a brain would be able to smell the phoniness from a mile away), it lead me to a pivotal realization: if you’re sitting in a cell 23 hours a day, surrounded by white tile walls, maybe it’s not text and talk you’re looking for from a friendly stranger in the outside world – maybe it’s pictures! As Hannibal Lecter says in that scene in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) where he dreams of a cell with a view:

I’ve been in this room for eight years now Clarice, and I know they’ll never let me out, not while I’m alive. What I want is a view where I can see a tree, or even water.

So I borrowed my wife’s camera and went to work photographing essentially anything and everything there was to see in my hometown. Parks, the river, trees, panoramic views, street scenes, etc. I also enclosed a photo of myself. Once I was done, I wrote a short introductory letter with greetings from Finland, and dropped the whole package in the mail.

A reply from Ramirez came within a few weeks.

As I said at the beginning, I had set out on a quest for something “tangibly evil”. and had believed I would be able to obtain something of the sort from a serial killer. I expected Ramirez’s letter to be filled with obscene talk (“I liked the photos of nature but can U send me photos of naked chicks covered in blood HAHAHAHHA?????”).

Not even close. The tone of the letter is chatty, cordial and polite. Instead of receiving a physical token testifying to the overt nature of evil, I had received a reminder of the very banality of it. Ramirez thanked me for the photos, told me about his favorite music and cars (and asked me about mine), and ended the letter with a polite request for more pictures.

That’s it?!” I thought to myself. I may as well have written my f**king grandmother! What a brilliant disguise, and what a waste of my time. Apparently, I was looking for evidence of evil under circumstances where it’s relatively easy to pretend to be something you’re not – in a letter.

But then I noticed something upon re-reading the letter. A strange question that, upon further reflection, stuck out like a sore thumb from the menial chit-chat:

“So… any nieces or nephews in your life?”

This was a strange question, especially following questions about cars, music etc.

I went to the Internet to research Ramirez’s letters to his other pen-pals, and contacted people who had received replies from him. That’s when I learned of a creepy pattern: Ramirez had, on several occasions, asked his pen pals for photos of children, particularly little boys – had I answered that question with a “Yes”, his next letter would have asked me for photos of those “nieces or nephews”…

I realized I was a hypocrite indeed: somehow, it had been “acceptable” in my mind that he had murdered and tortured people, but now I was outraged and disgusted by his pedo habits. That was the last letter I ever wrote to him.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this, I suppose it could be verbalized like this: don’t expect to know the extent of evil, and to thus be able to control your reaction to it. You think you “know”, for example, a serial killer because you’ve read about all his crimes, but you probably have no idea how deep the darkness goes.

None of us, not me or Philip Carlo or anyone, ever really knew Ramirez, despite our letters, our books and our late-night Internet browsing sessions.

Sometimes it’s better not to go digging. If you don’t believe me, ask Jason Moss.