Fall is a dark and creepy time of year. It’s when the harvest holidays happen, full of macabre symbolism; it’s when horror movies come out. This year it is also when real-life horror stories are coming out, making our escape into The Walking Dead seem like a cranium-smashing picnic.
Does not help that the Elizabeth Smart trial is happening right now. When it comes up in my newsfeeds, and right now it comes up far too often, my brain immediately wants to file her kidnapper and rapist Brian David Mitchell under the heading of “serial killer.” Mitchell stalked 14-year-old Smart in 2002 and kidnapped her from her home in the middle of the night, then “married” her in a truly-horror-movie-style Mormon marriage in the woods and proceeded to rape her (with help from his sicko Mormon wife) daily for nine months until she was rescued. Smart is currently testifying at the trial and it’s tough to see the headlines come up, knowing the stories they might hold. I can’t help but think that Mitchell could easily, and for his god, blur more of the fragile lines that make him more animal than human, and become a serial killer.
But there’s been a lot of that in the past month. Move over, Dexter: it’s raining serial killers.
A man was just apprehended who may be the Houston Strangler. Homeless man, 46-year-old Lawayne Jackson has just confessed to one of three suspected killings where homeless women were choked to death in the Texas city. Meanwhile, in Flint, Michigan trial has just been ordered for a man who looks to be the serial stabber who knifed fourteen people in an around Flint over the summer, five fatally.
Two weeks ago for its “Easy Prey” special on serial killers (which airs tonight), CNN surfaced killer Anthony Sowell, a 51-year-old Cleveland, Ohio monster who killed eleven women (the “Imperial 11”) over the course of two years and stuffed their bodies around his home. The chilling details lie not so much in the bodies rotting in the attic or shallow graves in the backyard. It is that the killer didn’t try very hard to hide his activities, and could have been stopped on numerous occasions — or at least noticed.
Neighbors and at least one councilman failed to realize the bad smell wafting in the area around Sowell’s home was human flesh. Sowell was know to have purchased an “abnormal” amount of trash bags from the corner store. He attacked and tried to rape a woman, attempted to drag her to his house on Imperial, and she escaped to flag a police car; Sowell told police she had attacked and tried to rob him. A visit from police following up on the complaint said they saw blood splattered on the walls in Sowell’s house… But, nothing.
Perhaps the most disturbing of all is the recent case of Colonel Russell Williams. This one won’t go in the record for serial killings yet the abject inhumanity of this person who was really not a person at all, a bizarre imitation of a human being, is perhaps a study of the chilling core mindset of what we consider so pathological it becomes otherworldly, demonic. The Catholic Church’s new army of domestic exorcists can’t touch this.
CNN’s headline Pilot who flew Queen found guilty of murder, sexual assault seemed spooky enough, a rapist/killer had a high-profile, high-security position and we would expect heavy screening for sanity in such a position. The CNN piece only clipped the tip of the iceberg, though it hinted at dozens of break-ins and “trophies” kept by the highly decorated commander.
When Col. Williams was brought to trial for his two murders, we saw a tableau of horror whose implications were shocking. It was clear he had done so many insane but clearly awful things that there was simply no way to charge him for the true extent of what he’d done. Never before in non-fiction have I seen such a clear-cut example of someone living two very distinct lives. The Canadian Intelligencer’s reporter attended the (heavily armed) trial three weeks ago and sent back this chilling dispatch. He was clearly unprepared for what The Globe and Mail would go on to share with the world, something they got a lot of heat for.
In four days of liveblogging the trial, Globe and Mail revealed a man who would go to work, go home, stalk and break into women’s (and young girls’) bedrooms, steal their underwear and belongings, carefully document the process with his camera, then go home and maintain his files. He broke into one woman’s house, filmed it, bound her in her sleep, and made photo montages and videos of him raping her until he killed her — then stashed her body so he could go off and do a training exercise. He was married and his wife had no idea; he lived in two places and traveled a lot. Williams would steal on average 40 pieces of underwear from women and little girls and then make videos and photos of himself dancing and masturbating in them. He took self-portraits in beds of young girls, showing where his legs and feet were too big for the tiny beds. He prided himself on his trophies, and meticulously maintained his database of images. When news of his murders were reported, he would take even more self-portraits with newspapers in front of his own photos of the murder on the computer screen.
Globe and Mail got in a lot of controversy for publishing this gallery of William’s photo-trophy collection (warning: disturbing).
We look at this and think, someone must have known something. Been able to tell. Yet while Williams used the military database to obtain one of his murder/totrure/rape victims’ private information, including home address, the Canadian Forces refuses to change its record access policy.
Williams got caught by a single tire track. Then, he was interrogated until he confessed. The Globe and Mail has the actual video from his interrogation and confession — watch it if you can stand being on the edge of your seat, and then feel more creeped out than ever when Williams is asked how he feels about what he did.