How To Get Away With Murder

No signs of a break-in.

An immaculately bleached floor.

A $500,000 life insurance policy taken out on your wife.

What are these signs of, you ask? Well, they’re signs that you’re dealing with an idiot who doesn’t know how to commit a simple murder without getting caught.

I don’t know about you, but I have lost too many hours of my life to crime TV: Forensic Files, 48 Hours, Cold Case Files, Dateline. I’ve been soothed to sleep by the voice of Peter Thomas (FF) and spent many a high school Saturday night being a loser, watching 48 Hours. I’ve seen the same case (The Staircase, anyone?) presented 18 zillion times on each and every crime show. I’ve groaned when I’ve settled in for a night of FF, only to find that I’ve seen every.single.episode. More than once.

What I’m trying to say here is that I’m an expert. I’ve seen and dissected murder scenes so many times that I feel that I deserve an honorary doctorate in Armchair Detectivetry (or something like that) and I wanted to share my expertise with you.

So, in case you are thrust into your very own murder (that you’ve committed), I present to you things that you should NOT do if you want to get away with said murder:

  • If your wife goes “missing” do not, I repeat, DO NOT replace the carpeting in your bedroom. This is not a good time for a decor overhaul.
  • Please don’t get caught on the Walmart security cam buying the same red duct tape that was found on your victim’s body. See also: shovel, cleaning supplies, rope and/or ax.
  • Do not dispose of the body and then dispose of your cigarette butt right next to the body. They can test that shit for DNA, you know?
  • If you killed someone in your car, don’t run to the nearest car wash and pay to have your car detailed. No one but a killer drives around in a pristine car. C’mon.
  • If you’re going to kill someone in their home, don’t try to make it look like a break-in by busting a window from the inside. Be smart and break it from the outside so the glass is INSIDE the house. This is an amateur mistake and you are no amateur (hopefully).
  • Avoid leaving your “murder clothes” in the washer and/or dryer. Who washes ONE outfit at a time, anyway? NO ONE.
  • Do not store your freshly purchased cleaning supplies under the sink to be easily found. The least you can do is dump some out of each bottle so it at least LOOKS like you’ve had that bottle of bleach for awhile.
  • If you are planning on killing your wife, do not take up with a mistress. The cops will find out about said mistress in 3.5 seconds and the jig will be up.
  • If you’re going to use a turkey baster to poison your husband with antifreeze, don’t be a moron. Make sure the turkey baster is at the bottom of the garbage can, not sitting nonchalantly on top for the whole world to see. Better yet, throw it in a random dumpster.
  • That last one was a true story.
  • If you’re going to “burgle” the house, don’t ransack the drawers, but leave 2.5 million dollars worth of diamond jewelry on the dresser. Steal that shit!
  • And for god’s sake, if you are going to stage it to look like a suicide, make sure that the gun “falls” in a direction in which the victim could’ve held onto the gun. If they are left handed, don’t put it by their right hand. *eye roll*

Before I go, if YOU don’t want to get murdered, don’t:

  • Be the “All-American girl.” They always get killed.
  • Don’t be the “Girl Next Door.” See above.
  • Live in a town that is considered to be “a tight knit community” or where you “never have to lock” your doors. These are both the kiss of death (pardon the pun).
  • Finally, do NOT have “the perfect marriage.” Perfect marriages always end in bloodshed. ALWAYS.

This is a fairly comprehensive list, but I’m sure I’m forgetting something. What am I forgetting?

I always forget SOMETHING. This is why I would never make a good murderer. For real, I would probably forget the body in the trunk and, well, THE SMELL.

 

Brightside Biography: I Was Born Into a Cult

Julius Schacknow proclaimed himself to be Jesus Christ in 1970.

For almost 3 decades, Brother Julius would lead hundreds of members in “The Work,” a cult which eventually ended with lawsuits, sexual assault charges and murder between cult members. (Fun!)

It was in the midst of this chaos that Kate (not her real name) was born. Her parents were members of the cult and had been set up through an arranged marriage (by Julius, of course). She was named by the cult, which explains her “different” name (I had always wondered where it came from).

But who decides to join a cult, anyway? Don’t people know any better?

It turns out that everyday, normal people are susceptible to cults and some people are just plain old born into them. To my surprise, Kate was one of those people.

I had NO CLUE that she had been in a cult. Granted, we weren’t BFFs or anything. We had mutual friends, but I never got to know her super well. Fast forward to 2017 and the start of this blog.  She messaged me, we started chatting and she spilled the beans. When she told me, I did the whole yell-shut-up-and-push-her-over thing (in my mind, of course).

Here’s her story.

YATB: How did your parents end up joining and where are they from? I’m assuming they joined separately since they had an arranged marriage?

Kate: On arranged marriages – I don’t know how much independence people had on who they married. I believe they were able to show initial interest in each other, but all marriages were approved by Julius and Joann (Julius’s wife). After my dad left, my mother fell in love with a man and Joann didn’t approve, so they were not allowed to marry. This man died from a heroin overdose about 5 yrs later. The leaders also arranged marriages for the children, binding them to each other, though it didn’t go beyond that.

Brother Julius Schacknow, leader of The Work
Brother Julius Schacknow, leader of The Work

YATB: Were there qualities about them that you feel made them susceptible to being “preyed” on?

Kate: My mom is from an East Coast town (where I grew up) and my dad lived in the Southeast for most of his life. I don’t know how my dad ended up there or how he joined. My paternal grandfather, from what I’ve heard was a scam artist, an alcoholic, abusive, and suffered from PTSD. He was on a ship that was hit by a kamikaze pilot in WWII and only survived by chance. My grandfather once moved his family in the middle of the night after some scheme fell apart. He died young from liver failure. I don’t have any memory of either of my paternal grandparents. From what I’ve heard, my paternal grandmother was quiet and passive.

My dad’s a conspiracy truther, who believes the flat earth movement is a government plan to discredit the real truthers. He believes events like Sandy Hook are false flag operations run by crisis actors. Thinking about that concept, I understand it – it’s reassuring. No one dies, everything is a play and nothing is real. He believes he’s being watched by the government, LSD is illegal because it opens your aura and the government doesn’t want that, and he’s a powerful wizard.

My mother is the oldest of 4, when she was about 4 yrs old, her mother was pregnant with her 3rd child, and her sister died at the age of 2 after a lifetime battle with cancer. I think her childhood was hard and the children born after her sister’s death were treated differently than she was. I don’t think she had the support she needed. I was told as a kid that my mom “ran away to Boston” at 18. Not really sure what they expected her to do. She moved with friends. She had lived in Boston for less than a year when she found Brother Julius preaching.

All that said, from research I’ve done, anyone can fall into a cult. There were quite a few members that joined in the 70’s because they didn’t want to be gay, there are members that needed a parental figure, and there are those that just needed the security of knowing a “truth” and higher purpose to their existence. At this point, Julius was allowed to preach IN public high schools. He would travel all over the Northeast and parents would allow their teenaged kids to leave with him and live a life of god. Early on he wasn’t claiming to be THE god. God spoke to him.

YATB: Did they grow up in religious families?

Kate: I don’t know with my paternal grandparents. My aunts, I think they now identify as Jewish and Gypsy. I’m 1/8th Jewish and they would be 1/4th on their father’s side. They read tarot cards and have a lot of magical thinking.

My maternal grandparents both worked for the government and were agnostic Unitarians. Though my grandmother believes she has ESP and a guardian angel.

YATB: How often did you interact with Brother Julius? Do you have many memories of him? Early memories of the cult in general?

Kate: Memories are a funny thing. Growing up I’d have ideas in my head of things that happened in the cult. I honestly thought I made them up. I remembered a family being brought to the front of the group, then bent over bare-bottomed and being publicly spanked. I remember having to sit quietly. I remember being screamed at by members of the church because I was sleeping at their house when my mom was institutionalized. I asked for a pillow once and they said, “Jesus didn’t have a pillow. Who do you think you are?” I remember Brother Julius giving me a piece of candy after being taken to his back office. I remember that I didn’t like the way he smelled (sweat and kosher wine). I remember his wife, who I was scared of. She could yell, but I was supposed to be nice to her. I remember some of the kids and my mom’s various roommates. I remember playing in a fountain in a park after a full day’s meeting. I remember 3 or 4 of the apartments we lived in from age 2 to 5. I remember asking my mom about Jonestown and asking if they were part of our group. I remember that as though we were still in the group, but checking the dates, I’m pretty sure we were out by then.

Mostly I remember life after we left. I remember being scared that we were going to die and go to hell. I remember telling my Kindergarten teacher that I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup. Our class was dressing up as clowns and having a parade through the school. When a parent tried to put it on me I cried and cried. I told them that only whores wore makeup and that if I did I would go to hell (yeah…. I stuck out at school – I was considered really weird….). I didn’t get to go trick or treating for the first time until I was 9 and even then, my mother was scared for my soul. After leaving I only went to church when I spent the night at friend’s houses, but I knew every bible story.

YATB: What kind of manipulation/control tactics did he use?

Kate: In the beginning, his tricks were simple carnival tricks – cold reading a crowd. Saying things and waiting to see a look across someone’s face that shows he struck a nerve.

Everyone was renamed – with names like Love, Justice, Temperance, Tolerance, Calmness, Grace, Faith, Innocence – to name a few.
Marriages where only on consent of the leader and his wife. The leader and his wife named any and all children born into the cult. Joann named me.

I have a stuffed animal duck that I found in a basement when I was 2 or 3 and named him “Evidence” short for “Evidence of Things Not Seen”
The words “I” and “me” were not allowed we were “the vessel.”
Hours and hours of meetings. Tithing of 10% along with free labor.

The cult ran a Century21 office (those mustard colored coats always freaked me out after we left but I didn’t realize why until about 10 yrs ago). They also ran a construction company. The cult would build and sell the houses for free, while the people doing all the work were collecting unemployment or welfare and then give 10% of that back to the cult.

There was a constant threat while in the cult. If members left, they were (told) they were going to die of AIDS, drug overdoses or other diseases. Not only would they lose their place in heaven, but life on earth would be torture.

YATB: So it sounds like a typical day in the life of a cult member would be attending meetings and working for free, basically. What did the meetings consist of? Did the children in the cult attend any sort of school?

Kate: Meetings were long… Meetings were every day for hours, with longer ones on the weekend. Everything you did in a day revolved around the cult. Every action, every thought. Simple things like how you put your clothes on, the order of your clothes in your dresser, saying, “Peace be on this house/car/building” when you walked in, your first thought when you woke up and your last thought before you went to sleep.

Meetings included lots of preaching by Julius, his wife Joanne and the apostles. There was speaking in tongues, songs. I don’t have a lot of memories of the meetings.

There were lots of children, from younger ages to high school age. Many of the high school aged kids had left home, with their parent’s permission to join and live with the cult. They went to public school. At that time Julius was allowed into the public schools to preach, too.

YATB: Did everyone live separately in their own house (like “regular” people) or did they somewhat live together? I would imagine there would be some sort of strict rules regarding being out in the community (go shopping, engaging with people outside of the cult)?

Kate: Another way Julius made money was that Tampco owned some of the apartment buildings everyone lived in. Other places were houses owned by members who rented out parts of their house. That was income, so most of it went back to Julius and Joanne. Almost everyone had roommates that were other cult members – mostly because everyone was so poor they couldn’t live alone.

Some people worked in the community, we shopped in the community, but it was always an Us vs Them kind of situation. We maintained a protective bubble around ourselves from the outside world. If we showed signs of that bubble breaking down, we were punished.

YATB: What sort of promises did the the cult make to it’s members? Would you say that it’s members felt that Brother Julius fulfilled the promises that he made?

Kate: The promise was simply knowing god, knowing the Truth, and salvation. None of which was fulfilled. Julius died – he didn’t rise again, but that didn’t stop die hard members from believing. It’s still active.

If he didn’t fulfill a promise, there was always a reason and it was the word of god, so who could argue?

YATB: What do you feel like the cult took from you, if anything? What have you done to rectify this with yourself?

Kate: We got out while I was so young, that I feel like it just is. I don’t know what I’d be without it, except I know what I wouldn’t be. It’s as much a part of me as any of my other experiences.

But I had a really hard time in elementary and middle school. My mom took a long time to recover and couldn’t take the best care of me. Though we lived with my grandparents I was alone most of the time. I’d go to school as a little kid dirty with uncombed hair, in stressful situations I’d pee my pants (figure I’ll be radically honest, haha). I had undiagnosed dyslexia (figured it out in college) and major issues with authority. These days, someone would have noticed  – my behaviors would have been reported with concern.

I’ll tell you a funny story from college that kinda formed my opinion about my life and my experiences. I met this super awkward guy one day and ended up hanging out with him for a night. I’m guessing he’d never spent that much time with a girl in his life. So, he decides to open up to me and tell me the most painful story of his life. The story ended up being about him being a boy scout leader and being so sure his troop was going to win an award that he stood up and started walking up to the stage. He’s telling me this story in intense detail, practically with tears in his eyes, and his voice shaking. The only thing I could think was, “You fucking asshole… I’m going to replace that story with a better one. The one where you tell your most painful story to a girl for the first time and she beats the shit out of you.” Instead I just left, pissed off as hell, and never talked to him again.

It took me about a week of feeling sorry for myself, but then I realized that the world we know, what we experience is all we know. Therefore, our most painful story is just that, our most painful story and that is okay. I guess that was one of the first times I didn’t feel completely weird for my experiences, if that makes sense.

I’ve also been in and out of therapy since I was 10. I used to have intense anger – my mom and I would fight – fists, biting, pushing, kicking. We found a good therapist that was able to stop that, though I’d still explode every once in awhile. I’ve had a few broken bones thanks to my outbursts (none since reaching adulthood, though).

I’ve been in a few situations that “triggered” reactions from being in the cult (one was a senior women’s study class – I failed the class and didn’t realize until about 5 years ago why I couldn’t handle the class). When I meet people named Julius or Joann, I have a hard time getting passed their names. I find myself automatically seeing them as a liar, a cheat and a thief. I’m sure I come across as moody and strange.

I also know that when I’m in a “fight or flight” situation, I fight without thinking. This has almost gotten me in trouble a few times. I’ve stopped a purse snatcher in his tracks – throwing him to the ground, I’ve rushed a man 10 yrs older and with 100 lbs on me after he attacked a neighbor (I was pregnant at the time, too). And I’ve stood my place in too many confrontations where I should have found safety instead.

I never got over my issues with authority. One other thing I took away from my experiences of my parents and the cult–I’ve always been terrified of a lack of control. That’s why I seldom was drunk and I never tried hard drugs. I was pretty sure I’d lose my mind like both of my parents did and maybe I’d come back like my mom or maybe I wouldn’t.

YATB: Do you think that Brother Julius founded this group because he had strong convictions or was it pure manipulation?

Kate: There is a lot of debate about this with ex-members. Some believe he was delusional – that he really did believe he was God on Earth and was swayed by his power and the evil in the world. Personally, I believe he was purely manipulative – a Charles Manson personality, who found great pleasure in controlling people. I believe he loved making people feel powerful and like complete trash. He liked dictating people’s actions, view of the world, who they were, down to their core.

YATB: You’ve mentioned abuse in the cult, can you speak a little more about that?

Kate: People died because of him. There were multiple suicides, there were multiple psychological breakdowns. There’s maybe one or more murders. One of Julius’ young brainwashed rape victims died from a fall down the stairs when he was the only other person in the house. Within the last few months it has come out the Julius’ son, along with another member, killed Paul because Joann manipulated them into it. The other member is two years younger than me and was born into the cult while I was there. I can’t feel bad for Paul or for Julius’ son–they took full advantage of their ranking and everyone around them. I feel fro the family of the member that helped in the murder. It’s hard not to think this guy was so psychologically damaged he didn’t have any real free will.

Parents were told to harshly punish their children – spare the rod, spoil the child. If you didn’t punish your children physically for missteps and mistakes, you were giving them to Satan.

Julius had “special work” he performed on teenage female members. Sadistic sexual abuse and rape. Multiple charges were brought against him, but he was never found guilty. All of the cases were settled out of court. One of Julius’ sons is currently serving time for raping children in the cult. Julius began teaching his son at an early age to abuse and rape–it was his son’s birth-given right. There were other child molesters in the cult, as well. And as I mentioned, one of Julius’ other sons is currently being held on murder charges.

The psychological abuse was insane. Everything a person did or didn’t do was subject to judgement by Julius, Joanne, and Paul. My mom’s psychotic breakdown started with me putting my coat on backwards (as a 4 yr old will do, because it’s silly). That was a sign that the devil was surrounding me and trying to take me. Everything was a sign, everything was symbolic.

I don’t know if anything happened to me, but I believe it did. Before the internet, I told my mother that I had been brought in for “special work” though I had never heard that term before. My mom said that I asked every question there was to ask about sex by the age of 3, including questions on petting and oral sex. From what I’ve learned as an adult, my thoughts on sex as a young child were more closely related to someone with experience than that of a child. I’m glad I don’t have a memory of it. I don’t know if his son was involved or maybe another boy, but it has that feeling of foggy memory that I’ve learned to trust.

YATB: What would it take to get kicked out?

Kate: Of the people that left – most left on their own, with no warning, and with nothing but the clothes on their backs, not knowing if they’d have any relationship with family members that stayed. A few were kicked out after significant mental breakdowns.  Many were kicked out on the whim of the leaders, many members begged to come back. If one of the leaders didn’t like you, your life was hell on earth until you left or you were broken.

Thank you VERY MUCH to Kate for sharing her story. I know it wasn’t easy.

Does anyone have any questions or comments for Kate?  Do any of you know anyone who was in a cult?

Brightside Booklist: From Here to Eternity

How would you feel about your dead Aunt Julie taking up space in your dining room for, oh, 3 weeks? How about 7 years?

Let me guess, you wouldn’t.

Well, me either. But that is all irrelevant because that’s what they do in Indonesia, not in Minnesota. Thank god.

I read all about it in the bewitching book From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty  and I want you to read it, too! Here are some other tidbits from the book:

  • As serious as the subject is, Caitlin is able to weave some humor throughout the book. Case in point: she describes the first mummy she saw in Indonesia (which was wearing ’80s aviator shades tinted yellow, obviously) as looking just like her middle school algebra teacher.
  • In Colorado, you can be burned on a funeral pyre, in the open air, on a mountain if you want. I don’t know, that’s pretty cool, right?
  • You know how everyone has been going on and on about burying cremains with a seedling, so that your body can be turned into a fricking tree?Not happenin’. Seems obvious now, but all your DNA is burned up during cremation so there’s no way you’re fertilizing any trees.
  • In Japan, the custom after cremation is called kotsuage. This entails cremating the body, but not pulverizing it like we do in America. The large bones are still intact and, beginning with the feet, loved ones pick up the bones of their dead sisters with chopsticks and place them in an urn.
  • In Tibet, celestial burial is the norm. In a nutshell, your dead corpse is chanted over by Buddhist lamas while a rogyapa hacks and slices your body into pieces. And this isn’t even the worst part. The worst part is the vultures circling, waiting for the cue to dive in and have your body for lunch. If you dare, here is a video of a sky burial for your enjoyment (or terror). I AM SERIOUS. THERE ARE DEAD BODIES IN THIS VIDEO. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

For those of you who might get your panties in a bundle about Caitlin not respecting death, let me just tell you that she is the founder of The Order of the Good Death, which is a nonprofit aimed at increasing death positivity and changing the culture of death in America. She started out working in the funeral industry and wrote a FANTASTIC book about it: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From the Crematory.

But I know that most of you are NOT pantie-bundlers and would enjoy Caitlin’s work. Have any of you read either of her books or follow her blog? She’s doing some good work and we could all benefit from staring death in the face. Do it!

You Are The Brightside Needs Your Help

Hey, friends! Have you noticed that I’ve been missing? You haven’t? Well, I’m hear to tell you that I HAVE been missing, but I’m gearing up for a big comeback. I need YOUR help, though, in determining what direction I need to go. I’ve been feeling pretty scatterbrained lately and I just want to hone in on WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT! Do you hate wading through long paragraphs? Maybe list posts are for you. Do you love learning about people that have met serial killers? Look no further. Do you hate reading book reviews? Tell me to knock it off. YOU GET THE PICTURE.

Anyway, choose 2 or 3 of your most favorite topics and place your answers in the comments section. I’ll also be placing this poll on the You Are The Brightside’s FB page and Instagram page, if you want to go that route.

Thank you for an awesome 2018 and I’m looking to make 2019 even better. Cheers!

YOUARETHEBRIGHTSIDE.COM POLL

Brightside Booklist: 4 True Life Stories To Read Right Now

October Brightside Booklist

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs

Every month I find myself reading at least one book about death. Is it helping me to run faster from my fear of death? I don’t know, but I’m going to keep doing it until I figure it out. I picked this memoir up while I was on vacation (even when I’m having fun, I can’t have fun!). It’s a beautiful book written by the great-great-great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson who was diagnosed with cancer at 38. She writes about treatment, her thoughts on what is surely coming and whether or not to buy a new couch. It is this thread of the everyday, the mundane that I love about this book. Becoming sick and knowing that you’re are going to die doesn’t bring the day-to-day to an end. And everything that would normally seem simple, boring even, takes on a whole new meaning.

“It’s a complicated calculus. On the one hand, a basic cost-benefit analysis: How much money do I want to spend on something I may not be around to enjoy? On the other: Isn’t buying as expensive couch a kind of lovely expression of hopefulness? And after I’m gone, don’t I still want guests in my home to feel comfortable and stylish?”

“Also: an expansive bench that fits all of us. Something that will hold us through everything that lies ahead–the loving, collapsing and nuzzling. The dying, the grieving. Buying a sofa online, like many of life’s biggest decisions, takes research and trust, but mostly trust. As I lie here, with John’s chest rising and falling under my cheek, I realize that my careful calculations (How long do I have left? Who am I really buying this couch for? Am I getting a good deal?) are irrelevant. As in all things, I have to believe I’ll know what’s right when I see it.”

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward: A Memoir by Mark Lukach

Mark and his wife Giulia had THE perfect life (isn’t that how it always starts?). They marry, live in San Francisco and at age 27, Guilia has a psychotic break. It came out of nowhere and led to a toss-up of medications and hospitalization. After some trial and error, she recovers, their life carries on. She gives birth to their son and it all comes barreling back towards them.

I would say that 92% of books written on mental health are written from the point of view of the person coping with a diagnosis, but this book was different.  Mark’s love for his wife was obvious, but his candor was refreshing. If you have anyone in your life with mental illness, you will be able to relate to his desire to help her and his deep love. BUT you will also say, “YES!” at his frustration/irritation/feeling of been smothered by the act of caretaking. Watching it all unfold from the point of view of her husband and witness his evolution as a caretaker was what drew me in.

“I felt trapped by the impossibility of the situation. I didn’t trust Giulia to make her own decisions. I wanted to make them for her, which led to her resenting me for not trusting her. I didn’t want Guilia to resent me, but the only way to do that would be to allow her to make her own decisions, even it that included choices that could hurt or even kill her. It wasn’t going to work if I remained in charge, and it would be too risky if she was in charge.”

Yes, this book is about true love. Even more than that it is a book about what TRUE dedication looks like, even when you’re not sure you want to be dedicated anymore.

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold

Everyone remembers when Columbine happened. Everyone knows who Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were, but does anyone know who they REALLY were? Dylan’s mother, Sue, wrote this book in an attempt to bring all of what she knew, and more of what she didn’t know, to light about her son Dylan. I’ll let these quotes from the book speaks for themselves:

“Tom and I were loving, attentive, and engaged parents, and Dylan was an enthusiastic, affectionate child. This wasn’t a kid we worried or prayed over, hoping he would eventually find his way and lead a productive life. We called him “The Sunshine Boy”–not just because of his halo of blond hair, but because everything seemed to come easily to him. I was grateful to be Dylan’s mother, and loved him with my whole heart and soul.”

“The ordinariness of our lives before Columbine will perhaps be the hardest thing for people to understand about my story. For me, it is also the most important. Our home life was not difficult or fraught. Our youngest child was not a handful, let alone someone we (or others who knew him) would have imagined to be a risk to himself or to anyone else. I wish many things had been different, but, most of all, I wish I had known it was possible for everything to seem fine with my son when it was not.”

With One Shot: Family Murder and a Search for Justice by Dorothy Marcic

I met Dorothy, the author, through my good friend Sarah of the awesome, AWESOME blog, Yes and Yes. She new I would love this woman and when I finally met her, I did. She lives in NYC, is involved with theater and KNEW MISTER ROGERS (*faint*). It turns out she has a real-life true crime case in her own family and after living with not-quite-the-whole-truth for years, she goes back to reinvestigate the murder of her beloved uncle, Vernie. His second wife, Suzanne, plead insanity, but the insanity didn’t end there.

This book was not only a murder mystery, but a portrait of a family that can become completely unraveled after a stranger steps into their lives. Suzanne was manipulative, surly and loved to drink (she was described as someone who “drank like a dehydrated desert inhabitant”). This woman was like a tornado destroying not only Dorothy’s family, but everyone else she came in contact with. The discussion of the details of the case became repetitive at times, but reading about Dorothy having to “play nice” when interviewing Suzanne and the rest of her family was fascinating.

Can you imagine spending hours trying to charm a woman who may or may not have killed your uncle?

*I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

What have you read lately? Let me know! If you want a FULL list of the books that I recommend, check out this link to 52 of my favorite books.

**And, as usual, you can click on the links to go to Amazon to purchase the books. It doesn’t cost you any extra, I just get a few pennies sent my way.

The Catacombs Of Paris: Who Are These People?

Good grief, I’m glad we bought tickets ahead of time. In fact, the line was so long that I felt like Beyonce with my pre-purchased tickets.I was pretty smug, scoffing at all of those poor, unenlightened people who weren’t as smart as we were. 500,000 people visited the Catacombs in 2016, so, if you’re planning a visit, BUY TICKETS AHEAD OF TIME. You can thank me later.

 

After walking down one of those curly, nauseating staircases, we were there (that staircase goes on FORever). It was damp, stale and really chilly. As we walked down the gravel path to the actual catacombs (which also took FORever),  I thought about the Nazis who held bunkers down there during WWII. Victor Hugo referenced the tunnels in Les Miserables and Parisians would regularly hold concerts here. The underground tunnels themselves go on for 200 miles, but the touring area of the Catacombs is about one mile.

First look at the Catacombs.According to The Catacombs of Paris issue of the Connaissance des Arts magazine, the Catacombs opened to the public in 1809. In the mid-1700s the city of Paris started to stink and everything became tainted from the fumes of a few thousand decaying corpses. Bodies were typically buried in cemeteries near churches, left to rot and then their bones were dug up and moved. However, the population exploded and, well, so did the population of dead bodies.

 

At this time, they decided to move cemeteries to the outskirts of town to distance themselves from all of these dead folks taking up space and spreading disease. For example, Pere La Chaise cemetery was established in 1804 on the outskirts of Paris by Napoleon and, at the time, it was considered to be too far out for anyone to bother with being buried there. I say, “you snooze you lose” to those folks that didn’t buy plots in that cemetery because, oh man, it is a beauty. AND you could’ve been buried next to Oscar Wilde (and approximately 1,000,000 other people). I wrote a popular post about Pere La Chaise a little while back and you can read about it here.

 

So there they were, several cemeteries overflowing with bodies, some of them uncovered (come on, that’s GROSS). It was so gross that a perfume shop near the cemetery was unable to stay open due to the stench (you’d think that stuff would be flying off the shelves!). At one point, a wall around the cemetery collapsed and bodies fell out, sliding into a nearby neighborhood.  This cemetery, Saints Innocents, was by far the largest, containing around 2,000,000 people collected over 600 years. This is where parishes buried their dead, along with people that died in the hospital or on the streets. The oldest remains found there were 1200 years old.

Finally, it was in 1777 that Louis XVI came to his senses. In order to house all of these corpses, he appointed someone to reconstruct the underground quarries that were collapsing in Paris. The first bodies were dumped there in 1786.

 

How did they move these people, you ask? They dug them up, sometimes having to dig through 10 feet of corpse-littered earth. The bodies were thrown on wagons and, with clergy leading the way, the wagons made their way to the Catacombs, leaving the bodies. behind. It took 15 months to 2 years (reports vary) to move all of these remains because they only transported remains at night. At first, the remains were dumped just like piles of dirty laundry. Eventually, the bones were rearranged in the Catacombs for a more aesthetically pleasing look, with the long bones and skulls being placed in front in order to hold other bones behind them. Every year, crumbling bones in the front are removed and replaced with “fresher” bones.

The Catacombs of Paris

Walking through, there were plaques commemorating the dates that the quarries were updated (they are continually worked on so they don’t collapse) and dates that bones were deposited. There are inscriptions from the Holy Bible, philosophers and poets.

 

Before and during the French Revolution, victims of political violence were also taken in by the Catacombs. Some notables who can be found (somewhere) in the Catacombs are: Charles Perrault (author of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood), Jean de La Fontaine (author of Fables and one of the most widely read French poets), Maxmilien Robespierre (played a role in the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, beheaded in 1794) and Antoine Lavoisier (considered to be the father of modern chemistry, also beheaded in 1794).

 

It was overwhelming to hang out and contemplate the number of bones that are down there. I’m one of those overthinking types (to put it mildly) and I tried to imagine who all of these bones and skulls had originally belonged to. What was their story?  Did that skull belong to the man who owned the aforementioned perfume shop near the cemetery? Did that femur belong to the dude that let the guillotine blade fall on Lavoisier’s neck? I guess this is the sort of thing I do whenever I go to a cemetery, but this was different. There was no way of knowing who these bones belonged to and I had sort of an existential crisis: WHAT IS THE POINT OF LIFE IF YOU END UP BEING A LONELY FEMUR IN A PILE OF SIX MILLION BONES?

 

Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, maybe not (trust me, I’m not). Either way, it was such a unique experience and, existential crisis or not, I HIGHLY recommend a visit. Being surrounded by the bones of millions of people who died 300+ years ago has a way of reminding you of how insignificant your problems are.

And that’s definitely not a bad thing.

Have you been here? What are your thoughts on hanging out with bones all afternoon? Scroll down to the comment section and tell me ALL about it!

 

Updated 10/1/2018

Brightside Books: Sharks, Widowers, Shapeshifters and Happiness

September Brightside Booklist

 

The Outsider by Stephen King

I love Stephen King. BUT, you know how sometimes when you read his books, you finish and say to yourself, Did I actually like that? I mean, I read the whole 5,342 pages, so I must like it, right? I don’t know. The Outsider, though? I loved it. It was a murder mystery wrapped in with the supernatural and it kept me wondering what the hell was going on until the very end. Instead of explaining, though, here is a quote from the book:

“Jack didn’t know how long he stood there, unable to move. It might have been twenty seconds; it might have been two minutes. The wind blew, tousling his hair and caressing his neck like those long fingers. The shadows of the cottonwoods schooled across the dirt and weeds like fleeing fish. The person–or the thing–stood behind him, its shadow long and thin. Touching and caressing. Then both the fingertips and the shadow were gone.”

 

Devil’s Teeth by Susan Casey

From the first scene (a seal decapitated by a great white), I was hooked on this memoir/cultural history of shark watching and the Farallon Islands. The Farallon Islands are 27 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge and host of THE largest congregation of great white sharks anywhere on the planet. Every September, thousands of sharks migrate here and scientists post up in a lighthouse and a dilapidated, large shack to study them. From the first scene to the last paragraphs of the author suffering alone on her boat in a storm (NO THANKS), it had my attention, because SHARKS. Brightside Booklist

 

This Is Not The Story You Think It Is by Laura Munson

“At this moment in my life, I am strangely serene. In fact, I may have never felt more calm. Or more freed. Or more certain that these things owe themselves to a simple choice: to accept life as it is. Even and especially when it really fucking sucks. Even and especially if my husband left last night to go to the dump after announcing that he isn’t sure he loves me anymore…..and nine hours later, still hasn’t come back.”

I really liked this book a lot and I’m serious when I say that since I’ve read it, it has bolstered my opinion that when something bad happens, we have a choice. We can obsess like a psycho/ruminate/jump ahead to the disaster that we KNOW is going to happen OR we can practice accepting what is. If this sounds oversimplified, ridiculous and corny, it’s because it is. But sometimes that’s all we need: SIMPLE. Laura Munson was funny and, although she comes from an admitted place of privilege which has no doubt made her life easier, her problems were straight-up relatable.  Even when I was shouting, “Why doesn’t she fucking leave him already?!!!!” I was still pulling for her.

Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman

I love, love, love when I find random books on the thrift store bookshelf that turn out to be perfect gems. This was one of them. I feel like I wouldn’t do this book justice by trying to express the feelings I felt by reading Francisco’s words about the accidental death of his young wife. The way that he articulated his grief was simple, but impactful and tangible.

This one sentence about his wife packing for their trip, which would be her last, shattered my heart:

“Anna put her quilt away in the closet and came back into the bedroom and finished packing for her death, three weeks and one day away.”

And this one where Francisco contemplates the wave that ultimately killed his wife:

“That night, as we slept, where was Anna’s wave in its long journey to Mazunte? Anna’s wave might easily have gotten its start a week or more before, during a storm in the warm seas of the Indian Ocean, where strong winds consistently blow in one direction. The older a wave is, the more dangerous it is, the height of a wave, its steepness, I read is related to its age…..Where was Anna’s wave that night, as we slept in our bunks in Oaxaca?”

 

What have you read lately that was amazing/heartwrenching/crappy? Let me know! If you want a FULL list of the books that I recommend, check out this link to 52 of my favorite books.

 

**And, as usual, you can click on the links to go to Amazon to purchase the books. It doesn’t cost you any extra, I just get a few pennies sent my way.

 

 

I Taught The BTK Killer How To Tie Knots

I have a confession to make. I have always considered myself to be totally smart and in the know about serial killers and other like-minded folk. I could talk for days about Ed Gein. I could go into detail on how I lurked around the Ward Weaver (heard of him?) crime scene when I lived on the West Coast. I could give you your own special Jeffrey Dahmer Tour of Milwaukee. Ask me about the BTK killer and I would have been SILENT. Nothing. I had NOTHING.

I have no idea how he went unnoticed by me for so long, but damn. That Bind,Torture, Kill guy was one frightening dude. He took immense pleasure in choosing women at random and stalking them. Not only would he stalk them for months, but he would sneak into their homes, cut their phone lines and WAIT. His method of murder was strangulation by ligature and he loved his ropes. Women would be afraid to go home. Families were terrified. He would taunt the police and the media by sending them letters,  holding an entire city hostage for YEARS. Between 1974 and 1991, Dennis Rader, the BTK killer, murdered 10 people. The victims included women, men and children.

And then silence.

Then, after a ten-year hiatus from killing, BTK started sending letters again.  He was finally caught when he sent a disk to a TV station and the police were able to trace the disk back to him. They found that he had used the disk at the church where he was a DEACON, they put two and two together and he was apprehended in 2005. He was sentenced to 10 consecutive life sentences.

By all outward appearances, Dennis Rader was a family man who loved his church. He was also a one-time employee of a home security company and a city compliance officer (an asshole-y one, at that). Last, but not least, he was a Cub Scout leader. Guess where he learned to tie the knots that he used in his murders? Cub Scouts. And who taught him how to tie these knots? This is where I introduce you to Mary Lou. My friend, Jason (AKA Beard), introduced me to her and she is a super rad lady. She lives in Wichita, is heavily involved in her community and loves to talk. She has a quick and sassy lilt to her voice and her excitement is palpable.

Here is her story.

“He was a good-looking kid, I know that.”

YATB: Is this Mary Lou?

Mary Lou: Yes!

YATB: I super appreciate you talking to me! When Jason told me about BTK I just about lost my mind.

Mary Lou: Well, overnight I decided that I would do a little digging to remind myself about Dennis. In my high school, the classes would run all seniors or all juniors and I knew that I had had a couple of classes with Dennis. I was a senior, he was a freshman. I thought he was only a couple of years younger than me but he was four years younger than me.

YATB:  So did you talk to him or was he just sort of THERE?

Mary Lou: Well, I went back and looked. I quit halfway through my senior year; I got married and moved away. But I went and looked back (in the yearbook) and he was not in any of the sports or any of the extracurricular activities. He wasn’t an actor. He wasn’t in the bible club. He wasn’t in choir. If he was, it would have been later on and his name wasn’t in there, but I thought, well, I’ll just go back and refresh my memory. He was a good-looking kid, I know that. And I think I may have thought he was only been a couple of years younger than me at the time except I was dating another guy at the time, though, who was more desirable than Dennis was.

YATB: You dodged a bullet there!

Mary Lou: Yes, shall we say?! But, I mean I did give him more than one look as far as that goes. I remember the teacher, but I don’t remember what class we were in together.  He would contribute to class if the teacher point-blank asked him, “Tell me about this,and he’d answer. He was surely always right. I don’t recall him ever being in trouble. There were others you could depend on weekly to be in trouble, but he wasn’t one of those. He had brothers. He lived a mile east and a mile south of my parent’s home. He lived on the 4800 block on North Seneca. He graduated from Heights High School. Ironically enough, the church that he belonged to was right across the street. That’s where he took one of his victims and killed her, there at that church.

I Taught The BTK Killer How To Tie Knots

YATB: Oh boy. So he had belonged to that church for many, many years.

Mary Lou: Yes and as it were, that was his downfall. He was a deacon at the church and people knew who he was. He didn’t understand computers much and he had turned a disk in and the police investigated it. He taunted the police with letters and signs and they found out who he was.

YATB: That’s the thing that shocks me. He wasn’t very smart with all of this stuff because he made a lot of mistakes with a lot of things along the way. Do you think at the end that he was trying to get caught?

Mary Lou: I think he thought he was going to get away with it forever and ever and he didn’t really realize that that computer was going to be his downfall. If I remember correctly, that was the first thing he turned in on a disk.

YATB: I read a book (Bind, Torture, Kill: The Inside Story of BTK, the Serial Killer Next Door) recently that was written by someone who worked on the case. They wrote about him making copies of the things he was mailing and they figured out what copy machine he was using, which helped them to figure out who he was.

Mary Lou: Well, yes, and wasn’t that copy machine in the police department? He was a dog catcher and an enforcement officer. God forbid that your grass grew any taller than 3 inches ’cause he would write you up. I mean, he kept most of his information locked up in a desk there at work.

YATB: Yes, that’s right!

Mary Lou: You know, people talked about it. I did not know his wife well, but I knew her. She was the accountant person for a convenience store within a mile of their house. I was Director of the Chamber of Commerce. The guy who owned the convenience store, there was a good-sized grocery/liquor store in town and he was the assistant manager and would go back and forth. He was also a member of the Chamber of Commerce and he and I talked after all of this. He said, “If she wants to, she will always have a job because she’s good.”  I asked him, Do you think she really and truly had any idea who Dennis Rader was?” and he said “No, he completely had her brainwashed.” I am convinced that he was very dominating, at least later on in his life. Thinking back to when he was in school, he wouldn’t have been dominating over anything but his dog, as far as I’m concerned. But if you got into the life he had, you’re going to try to cover all your bases.

“…but I also taught him the knots that he used.”

YATB: What kinds of encounters did you have with Dennis Rader?

Mary Lou: In all of the strange and unusual events that went along with his stalking and killing, my biggest encounter was, he lived in Park City (a suburb of Wichita) and his son was in Cub Scouts. There’s only one pack there and the guy that was Cub Master was a really good friend of mine. We were commissioners, I was in Cub Scouts for 25 years teaching parents how to play with their kids and us commissioners covered most of the state of Kansas. We did Cub Scout training all over the state. One of the Scout executives was recently on my program promoting scouting and I said to my co-host “Should I tell him the rest of the scouting and Dennis Radar story?” And she said, “You better.” He just looked at me funny. I said, “I did a lot of training of this man to be a part of Cub Scouts, as he had a boy (in the pack), but I also taught him the knots that he used.”

YATB: Yes, Jason told me this!

Mary Lou: He just put his hands over his eyes and said, “Mary, oh gosh, how can you live with it?” I said, “I’m not sure I could teach you, you know, what I taught him and it kind of haunts me.” I’ve put it out of my mind in a way. 

YATB: I was going to ask you how you feel about, I mean….

Mary Lou: One of the hardest things I had to do was when the four people from the Wichita Eagle wrote one of the best books about him, they had their book premiere at a bookstore here in town and I went. When they were done, they asked if there were any questions and I stood and said that I didn’t have a question, but I have a statement to tell you and it’s hard to say it. I said,  “I went to school with Dennis Rader,” and there was this gasp from the crowd. I said, “Yes and I knew him personally in a different way. I was a Cub Scout leader when he was a Cub Scout leader and worked with him in training.  I taught him how to tie those knots.” There was another huge gasp. I said the hardest thing. I told them that I was so glad they caught him. When I think of Dennis Rader, I think of the person I went to school with. I mean, he is also the BTK killer and I have a hard time putting the two together.

YATB: Do you have any insight into what made him, not snap, but made him turn into a totally different person from when he was younger?

Mary Lou: You know, I was totally amazed, that in court, when the judge was getting ready to sentence him he asked Dennis if he had anything he wanted to say. And Dennis sat there for an hour on live television and told about every killing that he had ever done in great detail. I absolutely could not believe it. But, he talked about things that he did as a youngster.  He killed animals and he tortured them. He performed sex acts in his mother and dad’s basement when he was growing up. Had he had not told that, no one would have ever known. And so I just don’t think he was wired right, from birth. And it’s a good thing that they caught him because I don’t think he would’ve ever quit. And he used Cub Scouts. One night, he had stalked a lady for a long time. And he used Scouts as  an excuse (to be out of the house). That was his alibi. And he killer her. We had a Winter Rendezvous (an overnight Scouting trip)–

YATB: Were you there?

Mary Lou: I went the next day and my friend, the other Scout leader was there. I don’t remember what his excuse was, but Dennis left the Winter Rendezvous to kill her in the middle of the night and then he came back to camp.  Bob (the other Scout leader) used to talk about it, but he doesn’t talk about it anymore. Bob said, “Not only did I trust him with my life, I would’ve trusted my wife’s life with him.” But Cub Scouts was a very good cover. You don’t know how his mind works. Scouts gave the kids something and something for them as a family to do together, but you don’t know. Was this just an excuse to go around stalking and not be at home?

YATB: What was his personality like in Cub Scouts?

Mary Lou: Very good! He was fun and games with the boys and very good with the other fathers, pitched in, did stuff. You would’ve killed to have him in your group because he DID stuff, you just didn’t know EVERYTHING he did. 

YATB: Did any of you….

Mary Lou: Did I suspect him? So, I’m one of the alumni that helps to arrange alumni banquets for the whole high school. I help arrange 20th, 50th anniversary things. As you know, Dennis would send notes to the police, taunting them. Maybe the 40th (anniversary), he had sent a deal to the newspaper talking about the neighborhood he lived in and the things that he did. He talked about a lot of thing close to the north end of town. One of my buds (Phil), was a Sheriff’s patrol officer, years ago. Anyway, he and I were comparing notes about what some of these things were. Everyone is trying to figure out who this was. I said, “The next time we get together with the alumni we need to sit down with the annual and compare notes and figure out who this guy is.” And so, Phil said that was a good idea. Our classmate Ron, I said to him, “I’m wondering if it might be one of our classmates.” Ron jumped all over me and got so upset, so we didn’t talk about it. But Phil’s wife, Glenda, was the executive secretary to the editor/CEO of The Wichita Eagle. She opened all of the mail and saw all of his letters, first time, first hand. Plus, the fact that the day that he was arrested, she was listening to it on the police scanner at the office. She called Phil and said to him, “BTK is going down today.” Phil called me and said, “BTK is going down today and guess where they’re at? They’re in Park City.”

YATB: Wow.

“You just missed being killed by the grace of god.”

Mary Lou: When my son graduated from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, three other boys became Eagle Scouts. One of them was Kenny Landwehr, who was the main police officer that put him in the car when he was arrested. BTK gets in the car and says, “Kenny.” And Kenny says, “Mr. Rader.” Kenny had been determined to find him for many years. Another story that a lot of people don’t have a connection to is a lady that Dennis stalked. He sat in her house. She was a widow. He was waiting until 2 a.m. for her to come home one night and she never came home. He couldn’t figure out where she was and why she didn’t come home. He took some of her scarves and he sent her a note with the scarf that said You just missed being killed by the grace of god.

YATB: Oh my god.

Mary Lou: That doesn’t mean a lot to a lot of people, but her name was Mrs. Chavez. Mrs. Chavez was at Christ the King church (Rader’s church) that night at their neighborhood party. Her grandson was one of the Eagle Scouts that graduated with Kenny. And so her son, Pete Chavez, she was at the party late and he said, “Don’t go home just come to our house. We’ll just go home and you won’t have to drive across town.”  And then she never went back to that house again and eventually moved out of town.There are so many side stories. Two of my Eagle Scouts were involved in BTK. My son, he wasn’t living in the house that he’s living in now, but the house with the woman (Shirley Vian) with the small children that was killed is a block from my son’s house. But they tore the house down.

YATB: That story was terrible.

Mary Lou: And the oldest son of the Otero’s (BTK’s first victims), who found his murdered family, he lives around here and I see him every once in a while.

YATB: All of these lives have just been absolutely destroyed.

Mary Lou: Oh, yes. My husband asked me at one point if I was ever scared that he was stalking me and I said, “No, I know him from high school!” My impression of him, it’s like two separate people.

YATB: The people that he stalked, did he know them?

Mary Lou: I think he just stumbled across them. Who knows what triggered him to see somebody and decide to do it. There was at least one on the list that he had been stalking when he got caught.

YAT: I was blown away by how sloppy he was. The incident with Kathryn Bright and the fact that her brother escaped from Dennis.  And the Otero family when he had trouble getting in their home–there was a dog. And he left and came back because he forgot something.

Mary Lou: Two doors north of his house, he killed that lady. That’s the lady he took to the bridge.

YATB: I’ve always really been into this stuff, and it’s funny because a know a lot about a lot of other serial killers but I’ve never really known a lot about BTK.

Mary Lou: A lot of things, when Phil (the alumni/sheriff friend) and I were mulling things over. We picked up on things.

YATB: It’s just human nature to not think that you’re connected to those types of things. It’s just fascinating how these people are so brazen, leaving Cub Scout camp, killing a woman (Marine Hedge) and taking her to a church where you can get caught, for example.

Mary Lou: I’ve been to that church and it still gives me the willies. Also, I live on a property with 6 acres as part of the yard. I have 3 ½ acres of wheat, it’s an L-shape. Guess who takes care of it? Dennis Rader’s nephew. He also works at a hospital and we sometimes see him when we go. I saw him and asked him if he still goes to church over where his family went and he said that his dad (Dennis’s brother) and the kids, the church asked him not to come back anymore. People that had known the rest of the family and the church board asked “Would god turn him away if Dennis Rader’s family showed up at heaven?” And they said, “No.” They invited the family back, but other people quit because of them.

YATB: In the general community, have been people okay with his family?

Mary Lou: Maybe 50/50.  A lot of people have shunned them, but some say you can’t help it if you’re in that family.

YATB: I imagine that a lot of people would think that his wife was lying about whether she knew what he was doing or not.

Mary Lou: Well, you know, I feel so sorry for her and the kids. I don’t really know what happened to the son, but the daughter has written a book. She said that he had locked drawers in one of their closets and told her not to touch the drawers. That’s why I thought she was brainwashed because if my husband told me that, I would be in those drawers right when he left the house!

YATB: He always seemed like such an asshole.

Mary Lou: He worked in enforcement and he always wanted to be a cop, but they wouldn’t take him.

YATB: I’ve seen some stuff with her daughter and she’s very angry, understandably. She seems adamant about people not giving him attention because she knows that that is exactly what he wants.

Mary Lou: Exactly. Exactly. And I understand that. She’s right.

YATB: Did they move away?

Mary Lou: I’m not sure, but I don’t believe she (the daughter) was in town when he was arrested. I still don’t know where the son is. His wife, I believe, still lives in the area, but keeps a low profile. He’s lucky he wasn’t married to me. I would’ve taken a hammer to that drawer within minutes of him leaving. His mother and dad were very quiet, nice people. Very unassuming.

YATB: Did they die before he was caught?

Mary Lou: His mother was still alive, I’m not sure about his dad. There are a number of lots that are empty in town because of him (because they tore so many houses down where people were murdered).

YATB: You can just be so close to someone and have no idea.

Mary Lou: You can have NO idea. I had no idea.

I want to thank Mary Lou SO VERY MUCH for taking an afternoon out of her busy day to speak with me. She was captivating, passionate and so fun to talk with. I know that stories like these often lead to more questions so if you have anything that you’re dying to know, hit me up.

If not, I’ll just be sitting at home living a life of paranoid thoughts like, Is that guy really a mailman or is he freaking stalking me?

 

San Francisco’s Secret Tombstones

I was hangry, it was 11 a.m. and I had already walked 8 miles. I witnessed (with my 6-year-old) someone smoking out of a bong and a bloodied man talking about how he was going to “kick Tyler’s ass.”  But here I was, leaving the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and ditching my family to trudge up an unkempt path in search of rocks. I had to keep one eye peeled for weirdos lurking behind trees. There was no one around except a maintenance man and what he was maintaining, I’ll never know. The thought of my disappearance ruining my family’s life crossed my mind once or twice.

Secret tombstones in San FranciscoRisking death (and heat stroke) to find San Francisco’s secret tombstones is just what I do, I guess.

So, this is the deal. There are just three cemeteries in San Francisco proper (which I never visited), not counting the Pet Cemetery (I didn’t make it there, either). In order to visit THE cemetery of “San Francisco,” you need to leave town and go to the city of Colma. Colma is a necropolis, holding the remains of approximately 1.5 million people. The dead outnumber the living by a thousand to one.

I first heard of Colma earlier this summer when Eliot and I were watching a show during Shark Week and they spoke about poor Albert Kogler who died of a shark attack in 1959. He was swimming at a beach near the Golden Gate Bridge and, BAM, he was chewed up by a great white shark. Long story short, Eliot and I thought we could swing by the cemetery to say hi to Albert, only to find that he was buried in Colma. *cue the sad trombone*

Okay, Tara, but why are there, like, no cemeteries in San Francisco? In 1900, after San Francisco had started to become really crowded, they outlawed new burials in the city. In 1912, they EVICTED all of the dead bodies and moved most of them to Colma, at a cost of $10 per body and marker. If a family could not afford the fee, the bodies got removed and dumped into mass graves. Now you might be wondering what happened to all of those markers and tombstones (if you weren’t, NOW you are).

The city of San Francisco gathered all of the tombstones, smashed them up and used them in public works. The pathways of most of Buena Vista park were lined with the broken pieces of the markers. I saw grey, white and black stone, over and over again, but I wanted to find one with a name or a date. The grey, white and black stones were like a bread crumb trail leading me to…….more grey, white and black stones. I almost gave up, but at the last second, there they were: “K E. H” and one that said “died,” accompanied by a “59 yrs.”

Seeing these little stones stirred some weird, unexpected feelings of regret for all of these……people? Or these rocks? Who or what was a feeling bad for? I would be lying if I said that I didn’t stand there for a second contemplating all of these discarded people and their gravestones. Why? Because I have to feel bad for everyone (and their rocks) ALL OF THE TIME. It’s exhausting.

Eventually, I started to imagine the boys, sitting outside of the video game store, their patience with my weird obsessions running thin. I said a quick goodbye and returned to the living.

If you ever get a chance, you should stop and check them out, but I won’t tell you where they are. You’ll have to sweat your ass off looking for them yourself. Just beware of that weird maintenance man.

 

 

Obsession: The Murders of Shanann, Bella and Celeste Watts

Every night at home, we put our phones away so we don’t get distracted from, you know, REAL LIFE. I’ve been sticking to it pretty faithfully, but lately all I’ve wanted to do is sneak off to the basement staircase and scrounge for new info on this case.  I’m talking, of course, about the murders of Shanann, Bella and Celeste Watts at the hands of their father and husband, Christopher Watts. Their unborn child, who they named Nico, was also killed. This case is like no other in recent memory and new details can’t come fast enough. What IS the obsession, though? The obsession is with trying to understand how a seemingly “normal” human being suddenly commits a crime like this.

I can see how the media would pounce on a story like this: happy family, handsome husband, beautiful, newly pregnant wife, joyful little girls. I mean, just LOOK at them. It was the perfect fairy tale until it wasn’t. It is a mind-numbing, unfathomable story that began with a missing mother and her daughters. The story ended, well, where we all knew it would. 

His sob story, standing on the front porch, aching for his family to return, to refill his empty home. He couldn’t sleep in the house. He missed seeing the girls on the couch. He couldn’t even begin to guess where they were. Regular, good-looking guy, perfect white teeth. Except there was something missing. Tears? That steady stare when you can TELL that they’re telling the truth? A sincere conviction that he was scared, that he was willing to do anything to find them.

Not surprisingly, none of this was real. He later admitted to killing his wife and two little girls.

Four days after they were killed, Shanann was found in a shallow grave. The two girls were found in tanks containing crude oil on property that belongs to the company he worked for. He is currently sitting in jail and has been charged with nine felonies: three counts of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree murder of a person under the age of 12 while being in a position of trust, one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a deceased body. The D.A. is considering seeking the death penalty (which is NEVER a thing in Colorado).

He is now claiming that Shanann killed the girls (NO WAY) and when he found out, he went into a rage and killed her. He freaked out and buried their bodies. Everyone knows this isn’t true. C’mon, dude.

The most likely scenerio is that when Shanann returned from her business trip at 2 a.m. on Monday morning, that he had already killed the girls. When she walked in the door he killed her and buried her body. The girls had already been placed in the tanks by then.

It has also been revealed that he was having an affair (shocking, right?) with a female coworker. A man recently called in to Ashleigh Banfield’s show on HLN claiming that he had a months-long affair with Chris and has proof although none has been provided. There was the bankruptcy and money problems. Her career selling dietary patches (you can see them wearing them in the picture) and I suspect the defense will say there was something in the patches that made Chris go crazy and snap. All of this stuff is starting to come out, but it still doesn’t make any sense.

I have so many questions:

  • What was he thinking when he was strangling his daughters? His wife? Not to be gruesome or insensitive, but it actually takes quite awhile to kill someone in this manner. It takes several minutes and significant effort. You can be impulsive when pulling a trigger, but not when strangling someone.
  • For crying out loud, did he actually think he would get away with it? That people would just be like, “Nah, that’s cool. We can’t find them, so let’s just forget about it and move on.” Was he planning on moving the mistress into his house and carrying on like normal?
  • By all accounts, they appeared to be a happy family. As we all know, social media can be misleading, but Shanann’s brother even said that Chris was a good husband and father. What was really going on behind closed doors? It’s been reported that they had filed for bankruptcy and friends have mentioned that they suspected that he was having an affair, but why should any of these things lead to THIS?
  • The scariest thing for me is the idea that you can never really FULLY know someone. He never had a past history of abuse, violence or mental health issues.  Can ANYONE be capable of committing a crime like this? If you’re a “normal” person, where does the capability come from? What flipped the switch?

For those of you who are interested in more about this case I’ve included some links. Be careful, you might fall in the rabbit hole, too.

Here is the initial TV interview that was done when they were still missing. He’s acting skills are terrible.

Here is a general overview of the case.

Here is a Time article regarding the defense’s strategy.

Excuse the terrible choice of words, but I’m dying to know what your opinion is. Can anyone be capable of this sort of thing? What was his motivation?