Tag Archives: serial killers

220 – True Crime Halloween: Scarier Than Superstition

When we think about Halloween, we think of witches and ghosts and demons. Superstitions and mythical creatures. Wicked? Sure. Scary? You bet. Real? Well, the jury is out. We talk about the veil between the worlds being at its most thin on the holiday, we talk about Samhain, horror movies, and jack o’ lanterns. We make evil into a joke, something cute for kids. We dress up little girls as witches, little boys as vampires. The terrors of our Dark Ages become fantasy fodder for our Enlightened era. We’ve talked about all kinds of supernatural brutes on this show and every kind of superstition. But sometimes the most horrible monsters aren’t monsters at all. They’re just people, sick and weak and selfish and angry people. 

  • Halloween night 1974, Ronald Clark O’Bryan laced candy Pixy Stix with cyanide in order to kill his children and collect their life insurance policies. He pretended to go to a neighbor’s house who wasn’t home and “trick or treat”-ed the candy, giving it to his own children and their friends. His son Timothy was poisoned to death and O’Bryan was caught and eventually executed. He was nicknamed “The Candy Man” or “The Man That Killed Halloween”.

  • On Halloween 1975, 15 year old Martha Moxley’s body was found bludgeoned to death and stabbed with a golf club. The affluent and troubled Skakel brothers were implicated in the murder and one of the brothers was eventually tried and convicted of her murder 25 years later. The case was international news because their aunt was married to Robert F. Kennedy.

  • October 28th, 2014, 35 year old Derek Ward decapitated his mother, Patricia Ward, and carried her body out into a Long Island street. There were several witnesses that watched him carrying the headless corpse but they had no idea it was real, they thought they were looking at a Halloween decoration. Derek Ward then proceeded to walk three blocks and killed himself by jumping in front of a train.

  • Halloween 1981, Ronald Sisman and Elizabeth Platzman are found murdered in their New York City apartment. The apartment is ransacked and they are killed execution style. Police suspect a drug transaction gone bad until a prison inmate came to them with an unusual claim. That inmate was imprisoned with David Berkowitz, the infamous “Son of Sam” killer, who was arrested in 1977. The inmate claimed that Berkowitz told him earlier that he was part of a cult that was planning on killing a photographer in an apartment in Greenwich Village on Halloween in a Satanic ritual. The police couldn’t get enough evidence and the case remains unsolved.

  • On Halloween night 2002, Christopher Jenkins was kicked out of a Minneapolis bar into the freezing weather while still in his costume. His body was found in the Mississippi River four months later. Four years later, the Minneapolis police changed the status of his death from an accidental drowning to homicide, but no one has ever been charged in the crime. Two New York detectives have their own theory about a “Smiley Face Murder Club” that travels along the Mississippi, killing young men and covering up their crimes by dumping the bodies in the river.

When we use names to describe these real-life terrors we turn people into monsters: “Smiley Face Killers”, “Son of Sam”, “The Candyman”. Nicknames are catchy, they sell newspapers and get clicks, but it also de-humanizes the people behind the names. It turns them into a witch or a vampire or a ghost. Because how could someone, a regular person like us, do something as horrible as this?

The song this week is based on a  true crime that happened in St. Louis in October of 1899. Francis “Frankie” Baker was a young woman who was keeping company with ragtime piano player named Allen Britt. Allen he stepped out on her with a prostitute named Alice Nelson, Frankie heard about it and got so enraged that she shot him. Allen died 4 days later and was able to tell the police who did it.

At Frankie’s trial, she claimed that it was self-defense, that Allen pulled a knife on her and that he beat her in the past. That was good enough for the jury, who acquitted her. But within months, someone had already written a song about it and soon afterwards, the names were changed a little bit to accommodate easier rhymes. The song “Frankie and Johnny” was born and was covered by everyone from Johnny Cash to Merle Haggard to Elvis. Francis Baker died poor in 1952, and was bitter that she never received any money from the song that she inspired. However, she did kill a guy. This episode’s song is our own acoustic guitar and violin version of the true crime murder ballad, “Frankie and Johnny”.

Frankie and Johnny was lovers, oh, how they could love
They sworn to be true to each other, true as the skies above
He was he man, he wouldn’t do her no wrong.

Frankie went down to the corner, to get her a stein of beer
She asked the big old fat bartender, “Have my lovin’ Johnny been here?
He is my man, he wouldn’t do her no wrong. “

Said, “I ain’t gonna tell you no story, I ain’t gonna tell you no lie
He was here ’bout an hour ago with that gal they call Nellie Bly,
He was your man, but he’s been doin’ you wrong.”

Frankie went down to the hotel, she didn’t go down there for fun
Under her long red kimono she carried her .44 gun
Lookin’ for the man that was doin’ her wrong.

Johnny pulled off his Stetson hat, hollered, “Now, baby, don’t shoot!”
Frankie pressed her finger on the trigger and that gun went “rrrroooolietoo”
She killed her man, ’cause he was doin’ her wrong

This is the end of my story, this is the end of my song
Frankie’s down in the county jail, poor thing, down there all alone
She killed her man, ’cause he was doin’ her wrong.
She killed her man, ’cause he was doin’ her wrong.
She killed her man, ’cause he’d been doin’ her wrong.

112 – Serial Killers: Amanda Howard and a Fascination With Evil

[ Credit to Djbarrett Photographer and Graphic Artist for photo of Amanda Howard in this episode’s header image ]

Remember the first time you saw The Silence of The Lambs? I do. I was fourteen years old and I went to go see the movie with my dad at the local budget theater in Milwaukee in June of 1991. I remember the day well because I’d  just picked up the latest issue of my favorite guitar magazine because I wanted to learn how to play “Bohemian Rhapsody”. But I also remember it because that movie blew my frickin’ mind. It was behind only Ghostbusters and Total Recall (and both films we discussed this summer on the podcast, funny enough) in my mind as what I thought were the greatest movies of all time.

Guitar for the Practicing Musician July 1991
Sunspot still plays “Seek and Destroy” live, originally learned from this magazine! All bass lines included? That’s why it was my favorite!
But it wasn’t just me who loved it. Silence of the Lambs nabbed the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1991 in addition to Best Acting trophies for both Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter (Best Actor for merely sixteen minutes of screen time!) and Jodie Foster. It is a tour de force of suspense and the measure to which all other serial killer movies are based.

And there were lots of movies of which to compare it to. Serial killers became the villain of the decade. Even The X-Files has Silence of the Lambs in its DNA. Fox Mulder was originally a serial killer profiler that was allowed to pursue his weird research on the X-Files because he was such an ace profiler. That’s right, in the 90s, being a serial killer profiler was a viable employment goal.

serial killers image
Here let me save you some profiling time. Single. White. Male. Usually have been picked up for a sex crime in the past.
From Scream to Kiss The Girls, Se7en to Copycat (which was Sigourney Weaver taking on the very evil Harry Connick Jr.), it seemed like serial killers were everywhere. One of the most awkward moments in watching a film in Milwaukee as a young man was hearing Wesley Snipes psycho character in Demolition Man say “Jeffrey Dahmer? I love that guy!” Audiences on the coast might have laughed, but definitely not in Brewtown.

There was even a reaction to all these serial killers as villains with the switcheroo of them becoming the protagonist instead. While some works, like Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho are meant to be completely satirical, others like Dexter have the audience rooting for a vigilante murderer like he’s Batman. Indeed, they made a special action figure out of his “Dark Defender” alter ego.

dexter dark defender
Hey kids, Merry Murderin’ Christmas!
But it wasn’t just a 90s thing, we’ve always been fascinated with serial killers, from H.H. Holmes (Chicago’s Devil In The White City) who was heavily covered in the Hearst newspapers of the 1890s to Uncle Charlie in the 1943 Alfred Hitchcock classic, Shadow of a Doubt. But it was back in the 90s, that an Australian writer by the name of Amanda Howard began compiling stories about serial killers on the web into a sort of online encyclopedia.

Amanda Howard
True crime author and this episode’s guest, Amanda Howard
Amanda’s fascination with these murderous personalities eventually led to a career as a successful true crime novelist where she goes in depth on the stories behind these psychos, from their motivations to the impact that it has on their often completely innocent families.

We were lucky that Amanda was willing to join us at 5am Sydney time for the interview to share her expert knowledge on the history of serial killers and provide an insight into the reasons that as a culture, for some reason, we just can’t get enough of serial killers. One of the most interesting cases that she shares with us is Fred and Rose West, a British couple who many in the US are unfamiliar with, and their grotesque story shocked me.

Amanda has been a pen pal of some of your favorite crazies, from Family Man Charles Manson to Night Stalker Richard Ramirez and her exhaustive research has given her a unique perspective into why these people fascinate us, and she even makes some paranormal connections as well!

More information about Amanda Howard and her books can be found at her website, amandahoward.com.au. If true crime isn’t your thing, she’s also written the Ritual series of fiction books about an investigator named Kate Reilly who probes serial killers in a city called Somerset, which if the books are any indication, is the most dangerous place in Australia!

For this week’s Sunspot song, we pulled out our track “Cannibal” from The Slingshot Effect. After all, on a week where we’re talking about serial killers and Silence of the Lambs, we just had to include our song that quotes one of Hannibal Lecter’s most famous lines.

You’re such a tease,
You always leave me wanting more,
And you could turn a guy like Gandhi into a carnivore.
Cuz you look like you’ve got great taste, you’re good enough to eat.
Maybe with a nice Chianti and some fava beans.

I’ve got a hunger that can’t be sated normally,
Here’s your invitation to my Donner Party…

I want you more than just inside of me,
And I’ll take that super-sized.
I want to be studied by Margaret Mead,
and I’ll bake you right into a pie,
This cannibal will eat you alive.

I’m into lust not into vengeance, I’m no Andronicus,
Carnality not hubris, I’m no Tantalus.
When I get turned on, I’m a barbarian,
My tastes decidedly non-vegetarian.

You always satisfy my craving that’s so big,
I get hungry for a hunk of the long pig.

I want you more than just inside of me,
And I’ll take that super-sized.
I want to be studied by Margaret Mead,
and I’ll bake you right into a pie,
This cannibal will eat you alive.

Every time I see you, I just can’t touch you enough.
Every time I’m with you, I just can’t taste you enough.
I can’t confuse, I can’t control you,
I can’t abuse you, I can’t cajole you,
I can’t surprise you and I can’t imbibe you, monopolize you, osmosicize you,
I just can’t make you enough a part of me.

I’ve got a hunger that can’t be sated normally,
Here’s your invitation to my Donner Party…

I want you more than just inside of me,
And I’ll take that super-sized.
I want to be studied by Margaret Mead,
and I’ll bake you right into a pie,
I want you more than just inside of me,
And I’ll take that super-sized.
Your sweet taste is the key to my recipe,
and I’ll bake you right into a pie,
This cannibal will eat you alive.