Interview with the filmmakers behind Dead Man’s Line (2018)

A few weeks ago, I saw an incredible documentary called Dead Man’s Line. The film tells the story of Tony Kiritsis, a man who felt so wronged by a mortgage company that he took his mortgage broker hostage to get the attention of the media to his perceived plight. He tied a shotgun to his hostage’s neck, then tied a line from the trigger to his finger, thus ensuring that, if he was killed, he would take his hostage with him to his grave.

The standoff was intense – and so is Dead Man’s Line.

Below is my interview with the filmmakers behind the film, Alan Berry and Mark Enochs.

Thanks you, gentlemen, for taking the time to talk to Books, Bullets and Bad Omens!

Watch the film on iTunes or Amazon.


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Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!

AB: My name is Alan Berry and I’m the director, editor, and producer of Dead Man’s Line. In my day job, I’m a Director of Marketing for a private financial firm in Indiana. I’m an avid fan of the band Phish.

ME: I’m Mark Enochs, co-director and writer of Dead Man’s Line. I live in Indianapolis, Indiana with my wife, daughter, and our two dogs. I also share a woodshed out back with a family of chipmunks and a mama garter snake who eats mice at night. Professionally, I’ve been everything from a proofreader to an editor, and I am currently writing for a marketing platform company. Otherwise, I’m a typical binge-viewing, bird-watching, physical-comedy-loving dude.

2) Have you always been interested in true crime?

AB: I’m a fan of true stories of all kinds, especially if there is a video to back up the story.

ME: Alan and I have been friends since high school, and there have always been documentaries in our viewing queue. Whenever there was a movie that was based on a true story, we always wanted the true story, and back before reality TV, one of the best places to hunt for non-scripted, non-editorialized truth was the documentary section at the video store. There wasn’t as wide a smorgasbord as there is now, of course, so whatever we found we would consume multiple times, stuff like Incident at Oglala, all kinds of concert footage, and Hoop Dreams which I remember watching for the first time with Alan all in one go. It was such a commitment from the filmmaker and the families, and it just showed how to use film to tell anybody’s story.

True crime itself is a natural draw for me. Stories like this have a built-in drama, and I love seeing that unfold regardless of whether the stories end with closure or total mystery. So what separates a factual but flat rendering from a dynamic and intriguing one is the filmmaker, that person’s vision, and the way the narrative is built. The Thin Blue Line was an early example to us of how you can add creative elements and enhance the story without misrepresenting the facts. Coppola’s Hearts of Darkness was another early one where we could see how real life and fiction could get mixed up and merge.

3) How did you become a filmmaker?

AB: Part of the path for me in becoming a filmmaker was out of necessity. Up until 2011, I had owned and operated records stores in Indianapolis. I saw the end nearing, so I jumped ship over to video production. Which for me led to more filmmaking.

ME: In high school, Alan had a video camera, and we made comedies, real Monty Python sketch stuff. We shot a lot of the early bits in chronological order, but as we continued to come up with skits made up of more and more shots, we started editing, super primitive, but cutting together scenes was something we loved doing. It just took a couple decades for the stars to align and go about seriously making a film. In 2010, we shot “Band in a Jam” up in northern Indiana, and we learned so many critical lessons there about story-telling, stuff you’re never done learning, but I remember after half a year of shooting that film we felt like not only could we do this but we might be able to do it well.

4) Your film Dead Man’s Line tells the story of a truly bizarre kidnapping and hostage situation from the 1970s. How did you come across this story? When did you know you were going to make a film about this incident?

AB: It’s Mark’s fault. Six years ago now, we had just completed a day-in-the-life documentary of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, and when it came time to do the next project, we did an informal survey of friends and family, wanting to know what our potential audience was interested in seeing, and then from the short list that came out of that, we rated each idea. Kiritsis rose to the top, in part because it’s an intriguing story that happened here in Indy and that many people younger than us had never heard of. Also some of the other ideas we had for a project fell through quickly. Kiritsis was the only one where we found people who wanted to talk, starting with Jack Parker, a WTTV cameraman who covered the story in ’77, held on to his footage, and was willing to share it.

ME: So some of it is Jack’s fault, and we are so grateful for that. Another reporter, WRTV’s Linda Lupear, also shared footage and her account. When we were trying to come up with the next project, this was the one with this great historical Indy angle that came to mind for me. We were in the 2nd grade when the incident happened, but I recall watching the footage as it was replayed during the summer of 1977 on local TV as the court proceedings got underway. That image of Kiritsis and Hall and that wired gun had stuck with me for 35 years.

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(Tony Kiritsis and his hostage, Richard O. Hall. Photo: John Hilley / Associated Press)

5) Was it difficult to get people to talk about the event?

ME: Yes. Short answer is yes. We both have real jobs, the ones that pay our bills, so scheduling convenient time isn’t always possible, and then of course, some people just aren’t comfortable being on film, or, in a few cases, on the record.

But of the 40+ interviews we did conduct, the vast majority were eager to describe what they’d witnessed. And not for attention-seeking purposes. There was nothing like that. People were just ready to put their recollections on the record once and for all. This was a one-of-a-kind event in these people’s lives, something they could document in one final work and pass on as local history to the next generation.

6) What do you think really drove the kidnapper, a man named Tony Kiritsis, to undertake such desperate measures? Was he a genuine “working man who’d had enough”, or just a narcissist?

ME: Kiritsis sawed off the barrel and stock of a shotgun and then took a man hostage with it. That’s a crime. There’s no way to get around that.

Did the mortgage company steal Kiritsis’ land out from under him? No. There is no evidence that Meridian Mortgage did anything so overtly illegal in their loan agreement with Kiritsis.

Could Meridian Mortgage have manipulated either Kiritsis or prospective buyers so that Meridian Mortgage could foreclose on the property and then resell it at a great profit? Yes, they could have.

There is no direct proof of that, but one thing I’m convinced of is that Dick Hall was only indirectly involved with the Kiritsis loan. He had been in the office when Kiritsis had come in. He knew Tony well enough to talk with him. On one occasion, he sat in on a heated argument between Dick’s father, M.L. Hall and Kiritsis, but that was it. Dick’s main error was showing up at the office that morning, a mistake none of us would ever have seen ahead of time.

Did Tony feel that M.L. Hall had done something to swindle his land away from him? Yes, he truly believed that. But the way he went about addressing the problem was to flip out and fantasize about revenge, and yes, some of that is because as a narcissist, he had a lot of trouble facing his flaws. But that’s not to say Kiritsis was a bad person. There are hundreds of examples of his generosity and good-natured camaraderie. Tony was an open book in many cases. He got things wrong, but he rarely lied. What he couldn’t face was losing that land. There was no Plan B. Everything past 1977 depended on that land and what it represented to Kiritsis. Think about losing your future. You still can’t wire shotguns to people’s necks. That’s not a solution, but I get the motive.

7) Your film tells the story perfectly: matter-of-factly, without too much background, letting the participants and news video archives tell the story in the moment. It reminded me of some of Oliver Stone’s better films. What techniques did you employ in constructing that intensity on the screen?

AB: I wish I could say I use some fancy techniques when I edit, but I don’t. One of my assets is that I have seen thousands of documentaries, good and bad. So when I’m going through cuts, I keep working it until I get that “Oh yeah, that works” feeling. That gut feeling that makes you want to go show it off. The next crucial step was to have Mark watch it to validate that my ego wasn’t just agreeing with itself. Mark has an excellent eye for crap, and our friendship is strong enough where he would tell me when my work was not up to par. Once it passed Mark’s crap test, the process would start over. Long story short, it’s a process of create, review, analyze, improve.

8) Where can people watch Dead Man’s Line?

Amazon and iTunes

9) What are you working on at the moment?

ME: Fiction. Podcasts are an intriguing idea too.

AB: Trying to become a roadie for Phish and other various video projects.

10) Where can people keep up with your work?

https://www.deadmansline.com/

https://www.alancberry.com/

And finally, my standard questions:

11) Your top 3 films?

ME:

Memento

Seven Samurai

Primer

AB:

Salesman

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

The Killing

12) Your top 3 books?

ME:

Watership Down

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Fight Club

AB:

Think and Grow Rich

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Rebel without a Crew

13) Your top 3 songs?

ME:

Could never pick 3 songs. Instead:

Queen. 2)Tool. 3) Iron Maiden.

AB:

1) Phish. 2) Frank Zappa. 3) The Rolling Stones

Interview with a Homicide Detective

Some weeks ago, I sent a general interview request to the Helsinki Police Department’s Violent Crimes Division, asking them if one of their homicide detectives might be interested in talking to me for a blog post.

Luckily for me, I received a reply from one detective who promised to help me out and be interviewed. There was one important condition, though: no names would be mentioned, neither in our conversation nor in this ensuing blog post.

I traveled to the police building in Helsinki in early June, excited by the prospect of talking to someone who’s job is true crime. I wasn’t disappointed: I was met by a polite, very intelligent gentleman who shook my hand and welcomed me with a friendly smile.

We went to an interrogation room (perfect setting, eh?), I turned on the recorder, and the conversation started to flow.

Most of the questions I asked him were submitted by followers at my Instagram account; thanks to everyone who took part!


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(My interviewee’s ID wallet. Detectives wear this inside the police building and in their field investigations.)

1) What’s your background? What led you to becoming a cop?

Without going into too much detail, my professional background is in the civilian field, where I worked before becoming a cop.

I was 26 years old when I applied for police academy, and was accepted. I’m 44 years old now.

Of course, it requires a certain inner “incitement” to want to be a cop: you have to have the desire to want to try a difficult job like this. And I myself knew from the very start that this particular field of police work [homicide division] was where I was aiming at, where I wanted to work.

As for other reasons, let’s just say that death has always followed by my side ever since my childhood. I’m sure that has played a part in directing me towards a job like this.

2) In terms of police hierarchy, how does one technically get to the position of homicide detective?

The path to being a detective in the Finnish police force does not correlate with the path portrayed in television shows, where they first work the beat, then end up a detective. The role of a detective within the Finnish police is also not similar to the role of a detective in, say, the US police.

Oftentimes the journey to becoming a detective does indeed follow the standard beat-cop-then-detective route, but the Finnish Police also trains people to go straight to the detective bureau. Things have changed quite a bit in this regard since I became a police officer.

3) If somebody wants to work as a homicide detective, what kind of advice would you give them?

The most important thing is life experience: you have to understand life and the human mind before you can do this job successfully. When you know what happens out there in the world, it’s a lot easier to deal with what you see and experience in this job.

It’s a good idea to do something else first, before you become a cop. If you’re overly career-oriented, and enter police academy directly after your military service, your life experience will be quite minimal. And this can backfire on you when you have to actually deal with human beings through this job.

4) Take us through an average day in your job!

There are different kinds of days in my work.

You have days when you’re the detective “on call”, and on those days you work from 7 in the morning to around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, when the next shift comes in. On these days, you’re out in the field responding to calls and cases that come in that day. Once your shift is over, the day is done.

You also have “office days”, which is when you do paperwork, carry out interrogations, communicate with individuals arrested for crimes, et cetera.

When a case hits you that demands greater investigative intensity, days can, of course, stretch quite a bit beyond the usual. But in general, we work during office hours, though we of course also have weekend shifts.

-) does one detective investigate one case, or are cases delegated from one shift to another?

There is always a lead investigator, but usually, in the crucial initial stages of an investigation, extra hands are needed. And bigger cases are investigated by more detectives – the bigger the case, the more investigators work on it.

But, ultimately one lead investigator will put the various pieces together and write a report of the entire case.

5) How long are investigations in general? Does it vary a lot?

It varies quite a bit. If you have someone in custody, there’s only so long you can keep them, and in cases like that the investigation has to be carried out quicker. We’re talking months here, usually.

On average, I’d say an investigation lasts from around a month to around four months.

6) In terms of the “categories” of cases currently on your table, how many of them are killings, how many are assaults and batteries, and how many are missing persons cases?

Missing persons cases flow in regularly, especially over Summer. Inquests are also an integral part of our job [determining the cause of someone’s death. -admin]; I have around fifty inquests on my table right now. As for killings, I have one “open” investigation on my table right now. And also, I have some battery and assault -cases under investigation.

-) You mentioned that Summers create a peak in missing persons cases. Why?

Well, people are on a roll. *laughs* Weekends tend to stretch deep into the next week, and relatives and family members file reports of their lost lambs. But usually, these types of people are eventually found.

People who actually disappear, in the truer sense of the word, are fairly rare, but occasionally you run into cases like that, too. These types of cases can happen at any time during the year. These types of missing persons are usually found drowned in lakes, or dead in forests, et cetera.

7) What is it like to encounter the loved ones of victims? Family, friends, those types of people.

You encounter different kinds of reactions from different kinds of people. There’s really no way to prepare for their reaction, because it can be essentially anything.

Delivering the news of a person’s death or disappearance to their loved ones is one of the most challenging aspects of this job. But there’s a saying I think goes well with this aspect of the job: “A job chooses its workers”. In other words, this job tends to appeal to people who can deal with powerful and difficult emotions. So this aspect of the job is not overwhelmingly difficult for me.

It all comes down to the one’s ability to handle death, and all the various phenomena associated with it.

8) What is the strangest case you’ve ever worked?

*thinks for a long time* There are many of them. Life is bizarre. It’s really difficult for me to pick one. I’ve worked on some sexual crime investigations, and I guess you could say that that’s the area of crime where the “strangest” cases are.

But on average, it’s really difficult for me to pick one case, because there are so many strange cases in all these various “categories”. There are strange suicides, strange murders, and strange incidents in this job in general. Most people don’t even know how bizarre some of the things that happen out there can be. You see a slice of life in this job that most people can’t even imagine.

9) What is the average Finnish suicide like? Is there such a thing?

There are several ways people commit suicides. The most common in Finland is probably hanging, followed by an overdose of medication, throwing oneself under a train, et cetera.

As for the types of people who commit suicides, I’d say that people who have lost control of their lives, and can’t find another solution or way forward. Beyond that, we have all kinds of suicide victims: men, women, old people, young people. From 15-year-olds to pensioners.

-) from the point of view of a detective, do you think suicides are increasing or decreasing in Finland?

From my point of view, during Spring and early Summer, there’s a peak in the number of suicides. I’m not a statistician so I can’t say why, but I think it’s because many people are depressed over the dark Winter, and they have their hopes set on Spring and sunshine, that the emerging Summer will save them from depression. Then, when that doesn’t happen, they feel hopeless, and suicide becomes a prevalent idea in their minds.

10) Is there any one case that has stuck with you for a long time, or are you able to simply move on from one case to the next?

I’d be lying if I said that nothing ever sticks with me, but on average, you can’t get stuck with these matters; it’s unprofessional. If you’re a detective, and you notice that you’re overly bothered by the things you see and experience in your work, it’s time to get a new job. And I personally leave work-related matters at the workplace; I don’t carry them home with me.

11) Is there a certain “category” of cases that tend to stay with you longer than others?

I know you expect me to say “murders” or “crimes related to children”, or something like that. *laughs* But, frankly, my job is to investigate these cases, and the work needs to get done, so in terms of what types of things cause me stress, I’d say I stress more over things like investigative strategies: “What do I ask at an interrogation tomorrow? How do I approach this case? What should I do to break this case?” Those are the types of things I might think about at night when I lay awake in bed.

12) When you are assigned to a case, do you have to start everything over every time (sort of “re-invent the wheel” every time), or are there enough investigative tools and strategies you can apply each time to get you started?

Certain basic things are done each time. Of course it depends on the nature of the case: if it’s a simple case, there’s no need to overdo the investigation, even if it’s a homicide case.

The hardest ones are so called “dark homicides”, cases where you only have a body, and essentially no other relevant information. Those are the types of cases where you have to start anew each time, and they take a much longer time to get solved.

13) What are the sort of basic tools in your job? In other words, when a doctor receives a new patient, he/she will begin by analyzing the patient’s pulse, take a blood sample, listen to the patient’s heartbeat, etc. What is on a homicide detective’s “check list”?

The first thing to do is to talk to the people involved. Family, friends, witnesses. That’s where I start an investigation.

Technical investigation will proceed at the same time. Material relating to the crime is collected and analyzed, and the detective has to decide what is pertinent, what needs further analysis, and what is not so pertinent.

But talking to the people involved is the key element. You have to start by asking “What happened? Why did it happen?”

14) If you look at TV shows and films, the role of DNA in crime investigation is often emphasized. How useful is DNA in real homicide investigation? Can you get a DNA analysis any time you ask?

DNA is a huge help. It plays a huge role in homicide investigations, and it’s importance is constantly increasing. DNA is a little problematic in the sense that it can be contaminated fairly easily. But still, it’s a big help in my work.

I can get a DNA analysis anytime I ask for one. A special laboratory at the NBI [“National Bureau of Investigations”, essentially Finland’s equivalent to the American FBI. -admin] is responsible for most DNA analyses. Our own unit here decides what we send them, then they do the scientific work, and send us their findings.

krp dna

(NBI crime lab in Vantaa, Finland. Photo: Compic / Markku Ojala)

15) When you’re collecting evidence and investigating a case, how much do you reflect on whether something will be permissible in court?

You have to take that perspective into account. For example, the investigation report we send forward has to lay out the case and pertaining evidence in a simple, easily understandable form, because you’re ultimately not writing it for yourself – you’re writing it for the court, for the prosecutor, and for the attorneys. So you have to reflect on the material from that perspective.

16) As for unsolved cases, have you personally ever investigated a homicide that ended up going unsolved?

I myself have never had that happen to me, but there are battery and assault cases that are unsolved on my desk. But homicides… No wait, there is one! But that’s just one case over a period of over 15 years, and I’m talking about the “scoreboard” of the entire unit here, not just my own cases.

17) Are there factors that are similar all across the board of unsolved homicides? Some elements that make them particularly difficult to solve?

In some sense, yes. If the victim is a totally normal person with no criminal background, no friends or partners who have criminal backgrounds, no ties to the underworld, the homicide can be particularly hard to solve. What adds to the difficulty is if the person has been dead for some time before he/she is found: that makes it harder to analyze the body and the surroundings.

18) The stereotype about the average Finnish homicide goes something like this: X and Y are drinking. They’re both super-drunk, and haven’t eaten in a while, which makes their blood sugar level low, causing aggression. At some point, Y makes some innocent comment that X interprets as an insult. In the heat of the moment, X stabs Y, and Y dies. The next morning, X doesn’t even remember what happened. How truthful would you say this stereotype is?

It’s quite truthful – it often goes exactly like that. What’s much more rare is when two total strangers meet, and a killing occurs. They happen, but they’re very rare. The scenario you just described is a lot more common.

19) How about Finland’s professional criminals and their circles, are there cases where a person is killed for “business”?

Yes, it happens. Plus there are foreign gangs and criminals who now operate in Finland, and they add to these statistics, too.

The violence in Finland’s professional criminal underworld isn’t nearly on the level of what’s going on in, say, the South American drug gangs, but these professional “hits” do happen here as well.

20) Are you ever faced with situations where someone is clearly guilty of a crime, but the evidence simple is not enough to convict him/her?

Yes. The only thing you can do is just try everything you can, but if the evidence is not enough, all you can do is accept it. You can’t take this work personally. Some cops DO take situations like that personally, and it just makes their lives harder.

21) Does a Finnish detective ever come across these “confessers”, people who try to paint themselves as guilty of crimes they really had nothing to do with?

Yes, we have those here as well. Especially in bigger cases that are featured in the media.

As for why they do it, I think it’s just a matter of need for attention: they want officials and the public to notice them, it gives them a sense of meaning.

22) How much of detective work is intuition and how much is the daily grind of collecting evidence and analyzing it?

Intuition of course plays a part in this, but the thing about intuition is that sometimes it can be really strong, and still lead you on the wrong track. *laughs* But intuition is oftentimes correct, too.

I personally have noticed that intuition plays a big part in cases where we receive a report of a homicide, and go to the scene to investigate. Then when I get to the scene of the supposed crime, I get an intuitive feeling, just from a few glimpses around the scene, that it wasn’t a homicide at all, but much more likely a suicide. When I investigate the scene further, I notice that my intuition was correct.

But overall, this isn’t a game of intuition, but of rigorous examination, investigation, and analysis.

23) How often are cases solved on the basis of one piece of evidence, the proverbial “smoking gun”?

Cases are rarely solved on the basis of one piece of evidence. More often than not, it’s a matter of causalities: one thing connects to another, and so on. The result is a sum of various small parts that, when connected, point in a specific direction.

24) Forensic science is developing all the time. Are criminals coming up with counter-measures?

Well, in general, criminals are aware of new investigative techniques and forensic science. But they will often forget these things in the heat of the moment, when committing a crime. Some of them use gloves more these days to avoid leaving behind evidence. But overall, these counter-measures are fairly minimal and ineffective.

25) Do you ever come across criminals, murderers in particular, who genuinely cold and ruthless?

If we talk about things like serial killers, we don’t have too many of them here [in Finland]. But we do have them. For example, lately there’s been a case in the news that revolves around a genuine serial killer.*

We also have professional criminals, whose “jobs” involve violence. These people are called “torpedoes”, and our unit has had cases where the perpetrator has been just such a “torpedo”. So they do exist.

penttilä

(*The detective is referring to the case of Mikael Penttilä, a serial killer who strangles his victims. He has been in the news lately after yet another murder attempt).

26) Is there something you wish people would know more about, with regard to your work or the lessons you’ve learned in life in general?

I’m hesitant about giving advice to anyone, but… *thinks for a long time* One think I would advice people to do more is use common sense. That’s one thing that’s totally missing in many of the circumstances that produce the cases I work on. Regardless of educational or social background, one thing that connects many of my “clients” is that they’ve acted with no regard for common sense.

27) Has this job changed you? For example, do you avoid certain kinds of movies nowadays, having seen what you have seen?

I’m sure it has changed me. A job always changes a person. But I still like the kinds of things I always liked. So yeah, my job has changed me I’m sure, but not in the sense that I would avoid certain things nowadays.

28) How do you deal with the darker side of this job? Through sports, talking to colleagues, something like that?

I simply try to do things that I enjoy. I haven’t encountered a case that would have proven too difficult to deal with – yet! Let’s see if that happens one day. *laughs* But, like I said before, this is a job that attracts certain kind of people, people who are able to deal with the darker side of things.

29) What kind of a person should NOT apply to be a homicide detective?

The kind of person who takes cases personally. A person who wants to save the world through this job will not last for a very long time.

There have been people like that here in our unit as well, and they’ve usually quickly realized that this job is too much for them, so they’ve and been re-assigned.

30) The law forms the basis of your job. Is the law always 100 percent sacred, or have you ever had to “twist” it a bit to solve a case?

Police work is closely monitored, and everything is based on the law. This is an absolute, unconditional fact that no police officer can get around. Sometimes it makes things more difficult, sometimes the law might produce situations where it’s difficult to function as a detective, but this is how it is. Certain new directives and sections in the law have made this work even more difficult nowadays, but you have to follow the law nevertheless, otherwise this job would be pointless.

31) How are police officers trained in the law?

They teach you the law in police academy, but us cops are not jurists; I often have to pull out a law book to look things up. Judicial oversight is more the responsibility of the police chiefs. But of course, the law dictates what I can and cannot do in my area of work, so I have to be aware of it, too.

32) What kind of a cooperation exists between a detective and the prosecutor?

The cooperation is pretty seamless. We consult each other all the time about cases, and hold meetings between cops and prosecutors to discuss various matters. This cooperation doesn’t exist in all cases, but in many cases it’s very important.

33) The cliche is that detectives hate defense lawyer. Is this true?

*laughs* It’s not true. There are good and bad lawyers. Some are very pro-police, others are very anti-police. Here in Finland nowadays, the defense lawyer is almost always present at interrogations, for example, especially if the crime is serious. Ten years ago, this was different: the lawyer was not present back then.

-) Does the defense lawyer ever tell the client to “shut up”, like in the movies?

Very rarely. In fact, usually they might do the very opposite and advice their client to be honest and come clean.

But sure, sometimes you come across what we call “crook lawyers”, who try everything they can to make the police work more difficult.

34) What goes through your mind when you’re face to face with a killer? Do you think there’s something categorically “different” about them, something “evil” that can be sensed by just being in their presence?

This would imply a true psychopath, but the people I come across in this job are rarely psychopaths. A genuinely “evil” culprit is rare. Even with regard to the more serious offenders, rather than psychopathy, the problem more often is that they simply have a totally different kind of a moral compass: something that’s forbidden to the rest of us might be “OK” in their minds.

A real psychopath can usually be recognized by their attitude towards their crime. They’re emotionally cold, indifferent towards other people’s suffering.

But usually, the culprits of crimes feel very remorseful of their deeds after they’ve sobered up, and the full realization of what they’ve done hits them.

35) How big a part does alcohol play in Finnish assaults and killings?

An enormous role.

-) In your opinion, how could this be changed?

People should drink less, and leave that knife at home when they leave the house. If people followed this advice, we’d have a lot less killings. Because the formula is that someone drinks too much, and when the night doesn’t go as they planned, they pull that knife out of their pocket and use it to try to solve whatever problem they have.

-) in your opinion, what goes into drunk people when this happens? Why does that knife come out?

They lose their temper over something. One thing culprits often mention in interrogations is that moment when everything “blacks out”: it’s like something went “click” in their head, and after that, they just blacked out with rage, so they did whatever it is they did.

36) Any regrets over choices you’ve made in your life or work?

No regrets. It’s good as it is.

37) On average, how accurate are TV shows and films that feature police work?

Sometimes very inaccurate, sometimes very accurate – it varies quite a bit from show to show and from writer to writer. Just like with books.

If you want authenticity, you should always be aware of who is behind a show or movie.

-) What would you recommend as realistic books or TV shows?

If you’re interested in authentic portrayals of detectives working at violent crimes units, I would recommend the Finnish Marko Kilpi or Matti Yrjänä Joensuu. Joensuu was one of our detectives here! His books are mostly set in the 1970s and 1980s, but they’re still fairly accurate, and still reflect the work of a violent crimes detective quite well.

joensuu

(One of Joensuu’s books. This one is based on a true story.)

38) What’s the most horrible crime scene you’ve ever been at?

*thinks for a long time* A block of flats with stairs going up to the second floor. Below the stairs lies the body of a victim who has been beaten into a totally unrecognizable state. I go upstairs, and the hallway is covered in blood. As I enter a room, inside I see pools and sprays of blood everywhere.

-) We agreed not to mention names or go too deep into spesifics, but let’s say that in general, what may have caused such a bloodbath?

Alcohol may have a played a part, and contributed to the events. The culprit, still drunk, may have tried to move the body somewhere to hide it, but may have failed.

39) Have you ever had to investigate family killings, where a parent has killed their entire family, including the children?

I haven’t had such cases, but I have investigated a case where the children were spared, but one parent killed the other.

40) These family killings are quite shocking and incomprehensible; it seems to absurd and crazy that someone would kill their whole family, children included. Why do you think these “family mass murders” happen?

They usually involve an enormous anguish. Something has gone seriously wrong, and it seems there’s no way forward, no solution to the problems. And in that dark state of mind, somebody makes the evaluation that it would be best for everyone if all the members of the family perished together.

As horrible as it sounds, family killings are often done out of a sense of love. The person who carries out the killing doesn’t want his/her family to go on suffering. We cops often use the term “extended suicide” about cases like these.

41) Have you ever investigated a case where the evidence pointed in one direction and your intuition pointed somewhere else, and it finally turned out that your intuition was correct?

I’ve had these types of cases. Let’s say we have a potential culprit in custody, and I interrogate this person. Upon talking to the person, I might be overcome with a sense that, despite the evidence, this person is not our guy. And later it turns out I was right.

42) Are you still occasionally shocked by death and blood, these kinds of things?

No. I never have been shocked by such things.

43) Is there any one particular case that has made you hate mankind?

*laughs* No.

44) The ease with which you’re able to handle the darker side of this job, do you think it’s innate, something you’re born with, or do you think it’s something that can be practiced and cultivated?

My opinion is that it’s innate. It’s something that comes from your very personality.

45) Does every detective have a “breaking point”?

I’ve never had a case that would have broken me, but frankly, too much bureaucracy can break any cop. But maybe one day I will be assigned to a case that breaks me! We’ll see.

46) If you were not a detective, what do you think you’d be doing for a living?

I have that background in civilian work, and I might be doing that job. But I’ve been doing this for so long, I don’t see switching jobs as a realistic scenario at this point. Maybe I’ll switch to a different department inside the police organization, but not to a totally different field of work.

47) Do you see this your retirement job?

Well, that’s one option, but… This job is getting more and more entangled in bureaucracy, which makes it harder and harder to do. This is due to changes inside the organization, changes in the law, new directives, all that. But retiring from this is one possibility.

48) Does humankind have any hope?

*laughs* There’s always hope. We’re not doing THAT bad.

49) Do you feel safe in your job? Have you ever had to fear for your safety in your free time because of what you do for a living?

So far, I feel safe.

-) Do professional criminals respect the police? In the sense that they don’t come threaten you if they see you at a pub, or something like that?

Well, if we talk about genuine professional criminals, there’s a certain respect there that goes both ways. You rarely have any such problems with them.

“Wannabe-gangsters” are a bigger problem, and much more likely to cause problems in a cop’s private life as well.

50) Why is the Finnish crime rate relatively low?

This is a question for a statistician; I can’t really say. From my grassroots perspective, we a shitload of work all the time. *laughs*

51) How do you keep the various cases on your table in order in your mind?

Thankfully, we don’t get all the cases in the department, just the ones that are delegated to us because of our expertise. I have various cases on my table, but not all of them keep me busy all the time. For instance, the inquests that I have on my responsibility sit there while I wait for coroner’s statements and other information; once I have that info, the inquests are simply archived. So they only keep me busy for a while, and then move on to await other information.

52) Does Finland have serial killers? I’m speaking of that classic type of serial killer who seeks out a victim, kills the victim, then goes into a “cooling off” period before striking again.

Yes, we do have them. And I believe we might have more of them on our radar if we could connect more cases through evidence.

53) What do you think about mediums and clairvoyants who say they work with the police in solving cases, finding missing people, etc.?

I’m open-minded, and wouldn’t categorically deny the possibility that something like this could possibly happen. However, I wouldn’t place too much emphasis on their claims. I don’t know of a single investigation where our unit would have employed a medium to help out.

Mostly, these mediums tell a person exactly what they want to hear, and this is of no use in a police investigation.

54) Have you yourself ever had a paranormal experience?

Let’s just say that I have received a greeting from beyond the grave.

55) Immigration to Finland has increased quite a bit in the recent years. From your perspective, have immigrants brought with them particular kinds of crime? Or have you seen an increase in immigrants in some area of crime?

I’m going to leave this question unanswered.

56) In terms of missing persons cases, are there certain factors that feature again and again in disappearances? Some types of similarities between the cases?

Unstable youths who have been placed in foster homes are a common group in disappearances. Sometimes we also have cases where someone simply does not want to be in contact with their families, and disappear because of this.

But regardless of age or gender or any other factor, all kinds of people disappear.

57) Do you spend any free time investigating “classic” crime cases?

I have no energy left for free-time homicide investigations. *laughs*

58) If you could travel in time and space and investigate any unsolved crime you choose, which case would you choose to investigate?

Probably the Jack the Ripper murders from Whitechapel in England.

-) what would you do differently than the original detectives?

There’s very little I could do, considering the rudimentary investigative methods of the late 1800s. There was no DNA, no CCTV cameras. All those detectives had were interrogations and witnesses. They basically would have had to catch him red-handed.

And finally, my regular questions:

59) Your top 3 movies?

There are so many of them, as movies are a hobby of mine. But I would say:

  1. Taxi Driver (1976)
  2. Scarface (1983)
  3. Casino (1995)

60) Your top 3 songs?

  1. Metallica – Fade to Black
  2. Opeth – Burden
  3. Alice Cooper – He’s Back

61) Your top 3 books?

Hard one. I’ve been reading since I was ten.

  1. Stephen King – The Dead Zone
  2. Bernard Cornwell – The Last Kingdom
  3. Conn Iggulden – Wolf of the Plains

62) What model phone do you use?

iPhone 7

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 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!


penn_book

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_charlene_smith

(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_ear

(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.

Ear_composite

(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 anne.penn.wordpress.com 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 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.