You were your approach. The thump against the fence. A temperature dip
from a jimmied-open patio door. The odor of aftershave permeating a
bedroom at 3 A.M. A blade at the base of the neck. “Don’t move, or I’ll
kill you.” Their hardwired threat-detection systems flickered meekly
through the sledgehammer of sleep. No one had time to sit up. Awakening
meant understanding that they were under siege. Phone lines had been
cut. Bullets emptied from guns. Ligatures prepared and laid out. You
forced action from the periphery, a blur of mask and strange, gulping
breaths. Your familiarity freaked them. Your hands flew to hard-to-find
light switches. You knew names. Number of kids. Hangouts. Your
preplanning gave you a crucial advantage, because, when your victims
awoke to the blinding flashlight and clenched-teeth threats, you were
always a stranger to them, but they never were to you.
Hearts drummed. Mouths dried. Your physicality remained unfathomable.
You were a hard-soled shoe felt fleetingly. A penis slathered in baby
lotion thrust into a pair of bound hands. “Do it good.” No one saw your
face. No one felt your full body weight. Blindfolded, the victims relied
on smell and hearing. Floral talcum powder. Hint of cinnamon. Chimes on
a curtain rod. Zipper opening on a duffel bag. Coins falling to the
floor. A whimper, a sob. “Oh, Mom.” A glimpse of royal-blue
brushed-leather tennis shoes.
The barking of dogs fading away in a westerly direction.
You were what you left behind: a four-inch vertical cut in the window
screen at the ranch house on Montclair, in San Ramon. A green-handled
hatchet on the hedges. A piece of cord hanging in a birch tree. Foam on
an empty Schlitz Malt Liquor bottle in the back yard. Smears of
unidentifiable blue paint. Frame 4 of Contra Costa County Sheriff
Department’s Photo Roll 3, of the spot where they believe you came over
the fence. A girl’s purpled right hand, which was numb for hours. The
outline of a crowbar in dust.
Eight crushed skulls.
You were a voyeur. A patient recorder of habits and routines. The first
night a husband working dispatch switched to the graveyard shift, you
pounced. There were four-to-seven-day-old herringbone shoe impressions
beneath the bathroom window at the scene on the 3800 block of Thornwood,
Sacramento. Officers noted that, standing there, you could stare into
the victim’s bedroom. “Fuck me like your old man,” you hissed, like you
knew how that was done. You put high heels on one girl, something she
did in bed with her boyfriend. You stole bikini Polaroids as keepsakes.
You stalked around with your needling flashlight and clipped, repetitive
phrases, both director and star of the movie unspooling in your head.
Almost every victim describes the same scene: a time they could sense
you return after a period of distracted ransacking in another part of
the house. No words. No movement. But they knew you were standing there,
could imagine the lifeless gaze coming from the two holes in your ski
mask. One victim felt you staring at the scar on her back. After a long
while of hearing nothing she thought, He’s gone. She exhaled, just as
the knife tip came down and began tracing the end of the scar.
Fantasy adrenalized you. Your imagination compensated for failed
reality. Your inadequacies reeked. One victim experimented with reverse
psychology and whispered, “You’re good.” You abruptly got off her,
amazed. Your tough-guy bravado smelled like a bluff. There was a
shakiness to your clenched-teeth whisper, an occasional stutter
detected. Another victim described to police how you’d briefly grabbed
her left breast. “Like it was a doorknob.”
“Oh, isn’t this good?” you asked one girl as you raped her, and held a
knife to her throat until she agreed.
Your fantasies ran deep, but they never tripped you up. Every
investigation into an at-large violent offender is a footrace; you
always maintained the lead. You were savvy. You knew to park just
outside the standard police perimeter, between two houses or on a vacant
lot, to avoid suspicion. You punched small holes in glass panes, used a
tool to nudge wooden latches, and opened windows while your victims
remained asleep. You turned off the A.C. so you could hear if someone
was coming. You left side gates open and rearranged patio furniture so
you had a straight shot out. Pedalling a ten-speed, you escaped an F.B.I.
agent in a car. You scuttled across roofs. In Danville on July 6, 1979,
a tracker’s dog reacted so strongly to an ivy shrub on Sycamore Hill
Court that the tracker believed the scent pool was just moments old.
A neighbor witnessed you escape the scene of one attack. You exited the
house the way you entered: without pants.
Helicopters. Roadblocks. Citizen patrols taking down plate numbers.
Hypnotists. Psychics. Hundreds of white males chewing on gauze. Nothing.
You were a scent and shoe impressions. Bloodhounds and detectives
tracked both. They led away. They led nowhere.
They led into the dark.
For a long time, you have the advantage. Your gait is propulsive. In
your wake are the police investigations. The worst episode in a person’s
life is recorded in sloppy cursive by an often rushed and sleepy
officer. Misspellings abound. Pubic-hair texture is described by a
doodle in the margin. Investigators follow leads using slowly dialled
rotary phones. When no one is home, the phone just continues to ring. If
they want to look up an old record, they dig through stacks of paper by
hand. The clattering Teletype machine punches messy holes in paper tape.
Viable suspects are eliminated based on their mothers’ alibis.
Eventually, the case report is put in a file, a box, and then a room.
The door is shut. Yellowing of paper and fading of memory commence.
The race is yours to win. You’re home free; you can feel it. The victims
recede from view. Their rhythm is off, their confidence drained. They’re
laden with phobias and made tentative by memory. Divorce and drugs beset
them. Statutes of limitations expire. Evidence kits are tossed for lack
of room. What happened to them is buried, bright and unmoving, a coin at
the bottom of a pool. They do their best to carry on.
So do you.
But the game has lost its edge. The script is repetitive and requires
higher stakes. You began at windowsills, then crossed inside. The fear
response stirred you. But, three years in, grimaces and pleading will no
longer suffice. You yield to your darker impulses. Your murder victims
are stunners all. Some have complicated love lives. To you, I’m certain,
they are “whores.”
It was a different set of rules. You knew you had at least fifteen
minutes to flee a neighborhood when your victims were left bound and
alive in their homes. But when you walk out of Lyman and Charlene
Smith’s, in Ventura, on March 13, 1980, you feel no need to rush. Their
bodies won’t be found for three days.
Fireplace log. Crowbar. Wrench. You kill your victims with objects
picked up at their homes—unusual, maybe, but then it’s always been your
habit to be fleet of foot and encumbered by very little but rage.
And then, after May 4, 1986, you disappear. Some think you died. Or went
to prison. Not me.
I think you bailed when the world began to change. It’s true, age must
have slowed you. The testosterone, once a gush, was now a trickle. But
the truth is memories fade. Paper decays. But technology improves.
You cut out when you looked over your shoulder and saw your opponents
gaining on you.