In the span of ten days, Joanna Dennehy went on a stabbing spree that left three love interests dead and two complete strangers who were just out walking their dogs critically injured. She lacked both motive and remorse, and garnered a lot of media attention, which she absolutely loved. She seemed to live in a world of her own creation that blurred the lines between fantasy and reality, a world where killing a man because it was fun for her made perfect sense and consequences didn't matter.
"Girls Will be Girls!" Poster
“Girls Will Be Girls!” No.1
I was going to be famous. Whatever it took, I was gonna be a star and I damn well knew it. Because that’s how I’ve always seen myself — right at the center of everyone’s world, living in a spotlight, constant attention. And that’s what they all called me: Star.
“Girls Will Be Girls!” No. 2
I liked to make up new versions of myself — rewrite my life story. Something more interesting, because who the fuck wants to be ordinary? Average childhood, runs away from home, lives with older boyfriend, becomes a teenage mother. How. Fucking. Trite. I decided to tell people I’d just got out of a 13 year prison stint, that my father raped me and I was pregnant with his baby, then he killed the baby, so I killed him.
Everyone ate that shit up. Instant sympathy! And more importantly: no one’s fucking with a cunt who killed her own father.
“Girls Will Be Girls” No. 3
You can’t exactly convince people that you killed your father if him and your mother keep coming around all the time, trying to “help out” and see the grandkids. I tried to distance myself far from everyone who knew anything about my past life. I told my parents to screw off, my sister to screw off, and I got my husband scared into taking the kids and hitting the damn road as fast and as far as he could get away from me.
All I had to do was keep a knife in my boot, talk about it often, laugh about the damage I could cause if I didn’t get my way…
“Girls Will Be Girls” No.4
I wanted like, Bonnie and Clyde level infamy, you know? It was funny though, because I only wanted to kill men. I don’t know why, like — listen, I liked it when anyone was afraid of me, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something so satisfying in having this man who could easily overpower you, but he’s terrified of you. And you’re gonna show these son’s a bitches that Star ain’t no bitch to fuck with!
That was my goal, my plan. I was hanging out with Stretch and Leslie that night and I let them in on my plan. They were into it, and said they’d be happy to help.
“Girls Will Be Girls!” No. 5
Kevin was the easiest, because he’d fallen in love with me. There were two more before I got to Kevin though. All I had to do was seduce them. It was disgusting just how easy it was.
A quick text exchange, they come running straight over, god only knows where from. Then I’d get all stabby-stabby, and when my fun time was over, I called Stretch and Leslie over to help — you know, move the body, take some pictures for posterity, that sort of thing.
“Girls Will Be Girls!” No.6
I was already becoming famous! I was all over the news. Everyone was talking about me. Everyone was looking for me. I loved it!
“Girls Will Be Girls!” No.7
After I killed the three guys from our neighborhood, Stretch and I skipped town. More fun awaits.
“Girls Will Be Girls!” No.8
Stretch saw a guy out walking his dog alone. I jumped out of the car and ran up to him: staby, staby, stab. He actually asked me what I was doing.
“I’m hurting you,” like duh. I wonder if he noticed the perplexed look on my face when he asked that, probably not through all the blood.
”I’m going to fucking kill you.” At that point I couldn’t help but laugh because dude, like, what the fuck else did you think I was doing — drawing a goddamn blood sample?
When I hopped back in the car, I kissed Stretch on the cheek. Stretch would never ask me such a silly question. Stretch got me! You won’t find many of those in life, so you have to make sure they know they’re appreciated when you can.
“Girls Will Be Girls!” No.9
Stretch found another guy out walking his dog. Same thing, but this time, I brought the dog with me.
I heard both men were helicoptered to big, fancy hospitals or something, and they survived.
we were arrested later that day.
They didn’t let me keep the dog.
“Girls Will Be Girls!” No.10
The whole process of my trial was exciting. I saw my face everywhere.
My name may has well been in lights.
“Girls Will Be Girls!” No.11
I designed this escape plan, right? I was gonna cut off a guards’ finger to fool the touchpad.
How fucking awesome is that?
That’s like, some next level super villain shit right there.
They found me out and I got stuck in Solitary for like, two years.
“Girls Will Be Girls!” No.11
So… now I’m one of only three women in Britain that have been told
”You’re life sentence means life. You’ll die in prison.”
Myra Hindley, Rosemary West, and now me …
Star, a star.
Not only am I in good company, I’d say I got exactly what I wanted!
With two languages, five murder trials, and a prison escape under her belt, Sharon Kinne has made quite a name for herself. The suburban housewife turned fugitive has been described by those who knew her as attractive, convincing, intelligent, and likable. Although she's often credited with committing three murders, she has only been formally convicted of one, and she adamantly denies responsibility for any of them. Another description of her was, "When Sharon told you something, you were just expected to believe it." So we'll go with her side of the story here. 😉
I always longed for something bigger and better and brighter. I don't think I necessarily planned on being an outlaw, but that's just kind of how the cards fell. All I knew was that living the life of a dutiful 1950's housewife was hell on earth, especially when you're married to a Mormon. Church, diapers, dinner, missionary position with the lights off. I was wasting my life. I needed out.
"La Pistolera" No.2
I'd met James when I was 16. He was 22 and in college, I thought he could get me out of this shit hole town. I was young and stupid. I wrote to him while he was at school and told him he'd gotten me pregnant. He promptly came home and married me. I had to convert to Mormonism though. Anyway, that baby never made it, but less than a year later I had a little girl named Danna.
"La Pistolera" No.3
The way people like to tell it is that he wanted to divorce me and I went off and killed him. But really, when he proposed the divorce idea, I told him he could have his divorce, but I wanted our daughter and I wanted the house. It was his parents that talked him out of the divorce. They were very religious, they wanted to see us work it out, and besides, they loved me.
"La Pistolera" No.4
So, at this point, Danna's 2. She likes to play with her dad's guns, and for some reason he lets her. Well, I'm in the other room, doing my makeup when I hear a gunshot. I run into the bedroom and here's my little girl holding a .22 and her father collapsed next to her, blood everywhere. That poor little girl had no idea what had just happened.
"La Pistolera" No.5
In the spring of 1960, I went to a car dealership and met Walter Jones. A walking stereotype of a sleazeball car salesman, Walt was already married with two kids. I guess I assumed that if your starting an affair with me, it's because your marriage is headed for divorce, but Walt wanted it all -- the wife and the mistress. Ever naive, I tried anyway, planning a romantic getaway. He rejected my invitation. I should have given up, but I had my heart set on Walt, I was determined. So I told him I was pregnant. Hey, it worked the last time. But this time around, it backfired monumentally. This scumbag immediately ended our relationship.
"La Pistolera" No.6
I had to do something. I mean, this dick was just gonna go around knocking women up and hiding it from his wife. I couldn't tell her I was the other woman, so I made up a sister. I met with his wife and told her Walt was screwing my sister. Then I dropped her off at her house. She went missing and Walt immediately blamed me, even grabbing me up and holding a key to my throat making some kind of threat. He was the one in the wrong here, not me. I even helped find her body. Of course there were no accolades, only accusations.
"La Pistolera" No.7
Thankfully, I had a competent Jury, and they agreed there were "too many loopholes" in the state's case against me. One of the jurors even came up and asked for my autograph after the verdict was delivered. Even though I was cleared of all charges in the death of Walt's wife, the state had taken the opportunity to re-open the case of my husband, so I was still stuck in jail.
"La Pistolera" No.8
Stupidly, I was excited to have a woman on the jury, because I still ended up convicted for the death of James Kinne, even though YEARS ago detectives said is was CLEARLY an accident. Sentenced to life in prison. At least James' family stuck by my side, they saw right through that giant mistake of a verdict. They said they couldn't find it in their hearts to say anything bad about me.
"La Pistolera" No.9
In appeals that went all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court, they decided, thanks to a whole slew of issues, that I was to be granted a new trial. There was a lot to it, but it essentially boiled down to people not handling their shit properly. And it sure as hell worked in my favor. Because the second time, it was declared a mistrial due to something with a juror, and on the final day of my third trial I finally decided to take the stand, so that they could hear straight from my own mouth that I didn't do it. It worked somewhat...the jury was deadlocked 7 to 5 in favor of acquittal. So, hung jury.
"La Pistolera" No.10
They set a date for yet another trial, but I was out on bond and I needed a break from all the stress. I left the children with their grandparents to take a trip to Mexico with my current beau, Francis Samuel Puglise. We were thinking about getting married down there.
"La Pistolera" No.11
You know, trouble just follows me, because I met a man at a bar who said he was a photographer, and I went with him to his hotel room because it was nearby and he said he wanted to show me his work. But he starts making advances towards me and THEN, this motherfucker tries to rape me. I fired off my gun to protect myself, then a hotel worker comes running in, and I'm still in a state of panic, so I fire at him too. Thankfully I only hit him in the shoulder, but the man from the bar wasn't so lucky.
"La Pistolera" No.12
I got 10 years for that shit, later upped to 13 because apparently 10 wasn't enough. I don't know, I was already plotting my escape.
"La Pistolera" No.13
I got my nickname "La Pistolera" in Ixtapalapan Prison, and I broke out of there in early December of 1969.
"La Pistolera" No.14
There was a big manhunt, they had all kinds of theories, but it was short lived. They know they'll never find me.
Most accounts on the story of Dorothy Mort paint her doctor, Claude Tozer, as a cad or a womanizer. She doesn't look much better -- the show Deadly Women claimed she fooled the jury and got away with murder. In reality, the relationship, while obsessive and ultimately fatal, was not likely sexual. Additionally, both Dorothy and her doctor were likely suffering from undiagnosed PTSD -- him from the war and her from an abusive childhood. Dr. Tozer was treating Dorothy for anxiety, depression, and "erratic behavior," and it seems they found kindred spirits in one another. The times, however, were not on their side, and their story quickly became a tragedy.
Now, right off the bat, I'd like to get one thing straight: there was never a sexual relationship between myself and Dr. Claude Tozer. Even investigations after the incident described our relationship as platonic, all consuming, but still, platonic. I must admit the all-consuming description is accurate, as I fell for Dr. Tozer nearly instantly. You see, despite being married to a very loving, loyal, and supportive husband, the doctor was the first person who allowed me to feel truly understood.
"Love Sick" No.2
Both Dr. Tozer and I had recently lost our fathers. The circumstances were very different, for Claude was very close to this father, who tragically passed while Claude was away volunteering as a medic in the army, and my father was a deranged, abusive man who tormented my family for years and jumped to his death down an elevator shaft. Nonetheless, we bonded in our grief.
"Love Sick" No.3
I fell into a deep depression after my father killed himself. The memories of my childhood came back into my mind like a plague. I recalled one instance where he chased my mother and us children around the house with an ax. It played like a loop in my head. And as I thought about him -- his erratic behavior, his time in a mental asylum, those memories started to feel less like memories, and began to fuse with my current state.
"Love Sick" No.4
Here I was, practically bedridden, but so, so far away from that former little girl who cowered in her own home, hiding from her ax-weilding father. I was married to a successful man, and a mother to two wonderful children. We were wealthy, we were respected, and above all, we were happy. It was a life I never thought I could have, and yet here I was, in my fancy night clothes, listening to my concerned husband on the phone with a doctor. "Erratic behavior," he says. He's describing me. Had I come all this way only to remain haunted by my past, to become my father?
"Love Sick" No.5
I became excited for Dr. Tozer's visits. He didn't just listen to my concerns, he shared in them. The things he had witnessed during the war -- at one point he was even presumed dead -- the recent death of his fiancé to influenza, just after his return, and the pressure to remain calm in the public eye, for he was a sought-after doctor, a highly regarded war hero, and a talented Cricket player. He had to keep up appearances, and I knew from my own experience just how exhausting that can be. We were able to share our fears and faults with one another.
"Love Sick" No.6
We wrote letters to one another when we were apart. I was becoming the version of myself that my husband and children had known before my father's death. I felt as if I had someone who understood me, and in turn, I felt happy again, I had a reason to live. I had no illusions about leaving my husband or family. That was the last thing I wanted. But during these times, it would seem improper for a physician to have any type of relationship with his married patient, be it platonic or not.
"Love Sick" No.7
Maybe, if I was thinking clearly, I would have realized the impropriety at the time, and I would have realized why Dr. Tozer felt the need to end our friendship. But I wasn't thinking clearly, and I saw my life of happiness slowly slipping away. I would fall back into bed, suffering nightmares each night, becoming more and more erratic with each passing day. Until, eventually, I would become my father.
"Love Sick" No.8
I was going to stop it. Part of me was deeply, foolishly lovesick for Dr. Tozer, and the other part of me was terrified of what would become of my husband and two children. I had to stop it before anything terrible happened. My death would bring peace to my family. They would never have to witness the monster I was destined to become. They would never have to cower in fear of someone they loved.
"Love Sick" No.9
I don't know why he told me that he was engaged to another woman. I don't know if he thought it would make things easier, or if he was longing for his lost fiancee, or perhaps, like me, he wasn't thinking clearly, and he knew that things couldn't go on in this way, but couldn't quite put his thoughts into words. At the time, I thought he truly was engaged to another woman, but I later discovered that he had made it all up.
"Love Sick" No.10
Nonetheless, it drove me to madness, and I shot Dr. Tozer in the drawing room before turning the gun on myself. I laid beside him. He was dead. The housekeeper came to check on us, but I assured her everything was fine. I waited there with Claude, but death wasn't coming for me.
"Love Sick" No.11
It was at that point I decided to go upstairs to my bedroom, where I had a bottle of laudanum. I drank most of the bottle then began to fall asleep. Eventually, our housekeeper kicked in the door and they brought me to a hospital. I would spend eight years in Long Bay Prison Hospital before I finally returned home, where I lived a quiet life with my forgiving husband and children. I never did become the monster that I was so sure I truly was.
Karla Faye Tucker
Listening to interviews with Karla Faye Tucker, I realize that she reminds me of my aunt. Like Karla, she is a Born-Again Christian, and they both speak in a way that emits a stepford-like cheerfulness about life. In Karla's case, she nurtured this attitude with the knowledge that her death was quickly approaching. I wanted this series to reflect that intense level of optimism that can sometimes feel nauseating, especially for someone like me, who is much more comfortable with the dark and macabre. Yet, despite having an outlook that drastically differs from theirs, I must admit my admiration for these women, who not only preach of love, generosity, and forgiveness, but strive to share those qualities with others, sometimes to their own detriment.
How does a woman like myself find her home on Death Row? And how does prison turn out to be the single greatest blessing of my life? I'm married to a wonderful, loving, compassionate man, the Revered Dana Brown, I get to lead a Bible study where I can share my love of life and the Lord with those who may be lost, and I'm blessed to teach those at risk about the dangers of drug use. I have the opportunity to lead them down a better path, I have an opportunity to help people. Fourteen years ago, I was a completely different person. God, church, friends, family, even being loved were all completely foreign concepts to me. Not only did I not care to help people, but I wanted the exact opposite -- to hurt people. At just 23 years old, I found my new home on death row after I brutally murdered two people with a pickaxe.
"Born to Die" No.2
I didn't really have a lot of guidance growing up. My childhood was very ... unconventional. I was raised by my mother, and she liked to live a wild lifestyle, so I didn't have any real guidance. She showed me how to smoke marijuana when I was eight, shoot heroin at ten, and get money for sex at fourteen. She was my role model so I at the time I was happy to do those kinds of things. I wanted to be just like her. That was normal for me -- being a groupie, drugs, and prostitution. She pulled me out of school very young, and I didn't know anything else.
"Born to Die" No.3
I think things could have gone very differently in my life, if I had had someone to show me guidance, right from wrong. It made me an angry young woman, I didn't really care about anything, life had no value to me, not mine or anyone else's. Violence was exciting in the bad crowd that I was hanging around with, and combined with heavy drug use, and my anger, something was bound to go wrong. No one can be in their right mind when they're on twelve or more different drugs at a time, you know? And I do take all of the blame for what I did, I take full responsibility. Nothing can excuse what I did, but that's certainly not a normal pattern of thinking, if your mind is that polluted, right? I wouldn't think so.
"Born to Die" No.4
I still love my mother. I don't like to speak ill of her. But I do have to admit that she set me up to have a self-destructive lifestyle. When you have no guidance, you develop a warped sense of "right" and "wrong." The violence that happened that night, fourteen years ago, it was inevitable, really. I'm not angry at her though, I can't place blame on her for setting me down that destructive path. The best thing I can do is forgive and take responsibility, because that's the only way I can have happiness and a love for life, and for God. And I know that if God can forgive me for the terrible things I've done, then I can find forgiveness for my mother and even for myself --which is the most difficult, because I face what I did every day, and I still feel guilt every day.
"Born to Die" No.5
"The details of what happened that night, I don't share. I mean, that's the worst night of my life, and I don't -- with how I feel now, I don't relive that night." I was an entirely different person at that time. "I mean, that -- that lifestyle was so crazy. I don't think I can explain it except to me. I was so spaced out on drugs all the time that it really didn't seem real to me."
"Born to Die" No.6
I actually stole a Bible. I'd never been in jail before, so I didn't realize they gave them out for free. "So I took this Bible into my cell, and I hid way back in the corner so nobody could see me, because I was like, really proud. I didn't want anybody to think I was being weak and reading this Bible. I realize now, you have to be stronger to walk with the Lord in here than you do to not walk with him. It's a whole lot harder, let me tell you." I really have no idea what I'm reading, but the next thing I know, I've collapsed to my knees and I'm begging God for forgiveness.
"Born to Die" No.7
It was like God reached into my heart and just pulled every root of evil out of me, just as simply as you'd pull weeds from a garden. I was never the same after that, and I had to really face what I had done to those two people head on, and that was really, really hard --to live with yourself once the severity of that has struck you. But ..."It's called the joy of the Lord." And when you've done something "like what I have done, and you have been forgiven for it, and you're loved, that has a way of so changing you." I mean, you feel an obligation to love every moment you have on this earth, and to help people who are lacking guidance. I don't want people to have to commit terrible crimes to learn to appreciate life.
"Born to Die" No.8
It truly is a blessing to be a part of something so significant. It's exciting, "just to see how God is unfolding everything. Every day something new comes up and it's exciting to be a part of it because ... it's going to affect a lot of people." My execution date draws near, but I'm surrounded by so much love and support, and this is the first time in my life that I've experienced that, so the thought of dying doesn't frighten me. And even though I want more time to help people, I know that God has a plan for all this, so I'm never pessimistic.
"Born to Die" No.9
It was still difficult for a lot of people to see past my crime, and I can accept that. "Justice and law demand my life for the two innocent lives I brutally murdered that night. If my execution is the only thing, the final act that can fulfill the demand for restitution and justice, then I accept that." I only hope that in my death they can find peace.
"Born to Die" No.10
While on death row, I have experienced real love and forgiveness. Even with the terrible thing I did, God forgave me, and I know I'm going to be with him.
"Everybody has been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I am going to be face to face with Jesus now. Warden Baggett, thank all of you so much. You have been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I will see you all when you get there. I will wait for you."
"Born to Die" Publicity Still
I'm including a thought from Karla's executioner. I find it interesting both in terms of Karla's effect on people, and for the fact that we don't often think about the people tasked with carrying out executions and the mental toll it might have on them.
Fred Allen oversaw Karla's execution, along with 120+ others during his days as captain of the "Death House Team." In Werner Herzog's 2011 documentary "Into the Abyss", Allen told Herzog that within days of Karla's execution, he suffered a nervous breakdown & resigned, giving up his pension. He also changed his position on executions. "I was pro capital punishment. After Karla Faye and after all this, until this day, eleven years later, no sir. Nobody has the right to take another life. I don't care if it's the law. And it's so easy to change the law."
The story you'll often hear about Stella Nickell is not pretty, but quite extraordinary. She was tried and convicted for filling Excedrin capsules with cyanide, causing the death of both her husband and a stranger. Detectives zeroed in on Stella pretty quickly based on the belief that she had bought two separate bottles of contaminated pills on two separate occasions at two different stores. Those odds were infinitesimal. The problem is that Stella apparently told police she might have bought them separately at different stores, but couldn't remember for sure. The other problem is that there are over 1,000 pages of FBI documents that were not shared at trial, and according to private detectives they indicate concealed evidence and tampering with witnesses.
Also of note: three months after the two deaths, Seattle police investigated a suicide where they found a bag of capsules resembling those of Excedrin and a pound of cyanide.
The stories you'll often hear about me are not ... favorable. Pregnant at 16, alcoholic, beat my daughter with a curtain rod once, angry at my husband for getting sober, killed him because I was bored with our marriage. Then, for good measure, filled a few bottles of Excedrin with cyanide capsules so some innocent woman would die and I could collect a little extra insurance money. The word "sociopath" gets thrown around a lot on those crime shows.
I saw one website where a guy called me "damaged goods" for being raped at 14. All I can say to that prick is fuck off. But its ok to say things like that about me, right? Because after all, I'm a cold blooded killer. Selfish, money hungry, wanted to live the good life, whatever the fuck that is. Open and shut case, thoroughly investigated by the FBI, my own daughter testified against me, and the ever important time it took the jury to decide my guilt: just 5 days.
But did they tell you about the thousand pages of evidence the FBI concealed from my defense? Or that that they paid witnesses, including my daughter, to testify? How about convincing my best friend that I was guilty and out to kill her, forcing her into hiding so I had no one to back me up? Yeah, that's the shit that gets left out a lot. So, pull up a chair and grab yourself a glass honey, because boy, do I have a story for you.
My husband Bruce & I were happily married for the most part. He was sober and I wasn't, but it wasn't a big deal. He didn't mind having the alcohol around the house and a part of him was even kind of proud of the fact that he had so much willpower. He came home with a headache one summer night, took 4 Excedrins and walked out back to watch the birds. Then he collapsed.
They helicoptered him to Seattle hospital, but there was no saving him. They said it was emphysema, but that never made any sense to me. Bruce didn't have emphysema, he was relatively healthy, aside from his frequent headaches.
Then I saw a news report about Sue Snow. She was killed after taking Excedrin too. I called the police and I wanted them to exhume Bruce. I wanted to know what had killed him. I really was never able to grieve for the loss of Bruce. There were two weeks of sadness and utter confusion, because his death made no sense, and then there were eyes all over me, everyone thinking I killed both him and Sue Snow, a woman I'd never met.
Ya know why they zeroed in on me so quick? Because I gave them two bottles of Excedrin. So they could check them. "Did you buy these at the same time?" I didn't know. Who the hell remembers when and where they bought each and every item in the medicine cabinet? "Are they from the same store, ma'am?" Again, I don't know. They could be from this one or that one, places I normally shop. I don't catalogue every item in my goddam house. So in the minds of the investigators, my uncertainty leads to "I purchased each bottle separately at two different stores." My best friend AJ was living with me at the time. She remembered us going to Albertson's and buying them both in a two-for-one sale. There was a memo in the FBI paperwork that specifically says that, but of course they neglected to mention it.
So my daughter starts talking to the police, and they offer her this $250,000 "reward." Suddenly she remembers me constantly complaining about Bruce, saying I wanted him dead, just going on and on. She brings up some library books that I checked out awhile back on deadly plants. And I did check out those library books, but it was because I'd seen on the news or something how certain common plants can be dangerous to children and pets. I checked out the books to make sure we didn't have anything potentially hazardous on the property. I was bad about returning them, and when Bruce died, I saw the thing on the TV, I started reading the chapters on cyanide.
"Stupid Stella" they'd call me. But somehow I was smart enough to obtain cyanide, careful enough to fill all these Excedrin capsules, and discreet enough to do that in a trailer occupied by 3 people, and then distribute them to different stores. AJ could have contested my daughter's stories. It was always the three of us in the times she described, and AJ knew that I never spoke about Bruce like that. The FBI convinced her that I had killed Bruce and the other woman, and I was trying to kill her as well. They instructed her to go into hiding, which she did.
By the time it finally dawned on AJ that she'd been duped, I was already in Prison. She talked to these two private investigators who were apparently interested in my case. They had all this paperwork from the FBI. One thing they used against me was that there were these little bits of algae killer found with the cyanide. We had a fish tank, so they paid my neighbor to search my house for it. I'd never bought any algae killer, so the nosey neighbor thing was pointless. So they offered a fish store clerk $15,000 if he would be willing to testify in court that he'd sold me algae killer. Suddenly "Stella who?" became "Oh, yeah! Stella! I remember her. We had to special order it for her she used so much of the stuff!"
Those private detectives really fought their asses off to get me a new trial. They had all this new evidence about the bribes and the cover ups, and they said there was nothing that pointed to me being the person responsible for all this shit. Alas, these guys were up against the FBI, so they never stood a chance. The FBI still firmly "believes" they have the right person. Which means they've washed their hands and its no longer their problem. So now I'm stuck here for the rest of my life.
You wanna know the real kicker? In those files, there was an incident noted: police investigated a suicide about three months after Bruce and Sue Snow were killed. With the body they found a bag full of empty Excedrin capsules and a pound of cyanide. Couldn't you have left a note, kid? Who knows, maybe he did. The FBI would have covered that up too. Knowing they had the memo means that they knew, or at least had reason to believe, that I wasn't responsible. And they were still able to go ahead and prosecute me anyway.
So what's the lesson here, kids? Life isn't fair. Enjoy it when and if you can. Because one day you might end up in prison for buying the wrong bottle of pain meds.
The style inspiration for this one comes from "The Love Witch" by Ana Biller. It worked out because Christa Pike has some striking similarities to the main character. They both become obsessive when it comes to love interests, have a very cavalier attitude towards murder, and are ultimately always motivated by selfish desires. Christa is glaringly different from my last character (Karla Faye Tucker), although she apparently keeps a picture of Karla in her cell. If you watch interviews with Christa, you'll notice she's sort of all over the place in the way she talks, which I attempt to mimic here without becoming incoherent. She also acknowledges that she did something illegal, but seems much more distressed by how prison is affecting her.
I also really played up the satanic and sacrificial aspects of this series, because despite not being an actual sacrifice, Christa used this murder as a strange bonding experience between her and her boyfriend. She was also very proud of it, and wanted to be seen as both frightening and gory, so I wanted to portray the somewhat fantastical image of herself that she seemed to have in her head.
"Date With Death" Poster
"Date With Death" No.1
So, yeah, I killed this bitch Colleen. But here's the thing -- she'd been running her mouth about me for a long time. She wanted my boyfriend and she knew if I got into one more fight I'd be kicked out of the Job Corps center. So she tried to mess with me. I mean, the one time I woke up in the middle of the night and this bitch is standing over top of me with a box cutter! She was deliberately trying to provoke me.
"Date With Death" No.2
Look, I'm not dumb. I'm not gonna get in a fight with her on campus. That's what she wants. That's how she wins. So I come up with this plan. I tell her, lets make peace, all us friends, we'll go out in the woods, smoke a little bit, you know, bury the hatchet, so to speak. Come my darlings, follow me, its just up ahead.
"Date With Death" No.3
I don't know what happened. Maybe, I dunno, I was just feeling mean that day. Maybe I was afraid she'd run back and tell. But before I know it, I've kneed her in the face, I've thrown her on the ground, and I tell ya, I'm stabbing this girl like crazy. She keeps trying to get up! And all I've got is this little box cutter and a small meat cleaver, so its taking for-everrr. I've got these two people with me though, and whenever she tried to get up and run away -- which was often, they'd grab her and toss her back on the ground.
"Date With Death" No.4
They told me I'm like a vampire. I drain all the energy from a therapist and then move on to the next one. I don't know, its kind of a cool thought, but I've never seen myself as a vampire. We dabbled in Satanism, but this wasn't supposed to be like, some type of sacrifice or anything. I just wanted to teach her not to mess with me. That's all. I hadn't even intended to kill her that night, it just sort of ended up happening.
"Date With Death" No.5
We did carve a pentagram into her chest though. I thought it was a nice touch. I can be artsy sometimes. Everyone kept saying that I didn't show her any mercy, but like, let's not lie to ourselves here. I totally did! I could have just left her there, the blood slowing draining from all those little holes we'd put in her body, suffering for hours and hours until there was nothing left. But I didn't. I showed her mercy. I was gracious and found some asphalt and beat her skull in. End of suffering. Thank you, Christa. They still want to fry me though. It's not dying that frightens me, but the chair ... it just seems like an awful way to go. You know when you get those little shocks from static? Those hurt! So can you imagine the feeling of thousands of those little shocks all coming for you at once?
Oh! And they're going to shave my head.
"Date With Death" No.6
I cracked a big hole in her head, then took a little part of the skull to keep with me. I couldn't help myself, I like souvenirs! I'd pull it out when I was recounting the story to someone, you know, to add a little dramatic flair. That made it exciting! I mean, I loved telling people about it, but then I'd pull out the piece of the skull, and the looks on their faces were just so great. It was amazing. I literally jumped for joy at one point.
"Date With Death" No.7
I told the police everything too, I mean, I wasn't gonna lie or try to get away with it. They brought me in within a couple days. I didn't spare any details, cause I figured that if I just came clean about everything, they wouldn't go after anyone else. They had me, who they insisted on calling the "mastermind" throughout the trial, so why go after the two other people. I'm the only one who got the death penalty though. That's what bothers me. I mean, at first, I was trying to leave them out of it. I didn't want them to get caught, but if the cops insist on punishing all of us, why am I the only one getting fried? That just ins't fair.
"Date With Death" No.8
You know, its a lot harder to kill someone when they're trying to talk to you. In prison I had this girl who just kept harassing me, and you have to stand up to bullies or they'll never leave you alone. So I started to strangle her with a shoelace. She sure as hell couldn't talk. I almost succeeded too, but they stopped me and she recovered in the hospital. Colleen, though, she was a talker. I mean, that girl just would not shut up. Begging, trying to reason with me, making promises, conflict resolution shit, the whole nine yards. I don't know. I guess none of that matters anymore. These days I just sit around waiting for the chair.
Abe Sada, a failed Geisha who autoerotically asphyxiates her lover when he declines to leave his wife, has a story that is arguably the most interesting I've come across. Not only for the unapologetic stance and immense love for her victim she maintained, but also for the bizarre manner in which she and her murder were treated. The presiding judge admitted to being sexually aroused by details of the crime, her prison time was minimal, and she inspired numerous films and literature, both erotic and academic. In pre-war Japan, she was used as an example of the dangerous nature of female sexuality and the threat it had on society as a whole. Just ten years later, in 1946, she became a sort of folk hero, representing a positive view on sexuality and freedom, and becoming a heroine against "false morality" and an oppressive government. Sada's crime was never just a crime, and she was never just a murderess. Whether in a positive or negative light, she always spoke to society at large.
"Hell in a Handbag" Promotional Poster
"Hell in a Handbag" No.1
He was the great love of my life. Everyone knows that I killed him, but they often get the reasons wrong. Yes, I struggled with jealousy, but it was so much more than that. I desperately loved him, and I couldn't bear the thought of him with anyone else. By the time I met Kichizo Ishida, I had worked as a geisha, a legal prostitute, an illegal prostitute, a maid, and a waitress. Both of my parents had passed away, I had contracted syphilis, and I had never married. A good friend suggested that I could become financially independent by opening up a small restaurant, and arranged for me to become an apprentice at the Yoshidaya in Tokyo. Ishida owned the restaurant, and he was married, but he started making advances towards me almost immediately after I started working there. We made love for the first time inside the Yoshidaya, with the accompaniment of a romantic ballad sung by one of the restaurant's geishas.
"Hell in a Handbag" No.2
"It is hard to say exactly what was so good about Ishida. But it was impossible to say anything bad about his looks, his attitude, his skill as a lover, the way he expressed his feelings. I had never met such a sexy man." In late April, we met at a teahouse to make love. We had only planned a brief stay, but remained in bed for four days before moving to a different teahouse in a farther neighborhood. We continued to make love as maids served sake and geishas sang for us. We finally moved to a teahouse in the Ogu neighborhood, where we continued until the 8th of May. By this point, Ishida had spent over two weeks away from the restaurant and his wife, and felt that he had to return.
"Hell in a Handbag" No. 3
I had never known love before Ishida, and the thought of him with his wife drove me mad. I was full of jealousy and agitation and drank in excess in an attempt to quell the pain, but to no avail. The following day, I attended a play where I saw a geisha character attack her lover with a few knife. I decided that when I next saw Ishida, I would threaten him with a knife. The idea of killing him started dancing around in my head, but I was more focused on the threat of committing the act.
"Hell in a Handbag" No.4
On May 11th, I pawned some of my clothing and bought sushi and a kitchen knife. "I pulled the kitchen knife out of my bag and threatened him as had been done in the play I had seen, saying, 'Kichi, you wore that kimono just to please one of your favorite customers. You bastard, I'll kill you for that.' Ishida was startled and drew away a little, but he seemed delighted with it all..."
"Hell in a Handbag" No.5
We returned to the teahouse in Ogu, and I put the knife to the base of his penis, telling him that I would make sure he would never play around with another woman. He was very amused at this, and he laughed a great, delighted laugh before pulling me on top of him. Two nights into our love-making in Ogu, I began to choke him with my sash. He enjoyed this and told me to continue. He said that it increased the pleasure, so I had him to do it to me as well.
"Hell in a Handbag" No.6
On May 16th, I used the sash again to prevent Ishida's breathing during orgasm, which we both enjoyed. We did this repeatedly for two hours, and once I stopped, his face had become distorted and would not return to normal. He took 30 tablets of a sedative. As he began to fall asleep, he told me "You'll put the cord around my neck and squeeze it again while I'm sleeping, won't you? If you start to strangle me, don't stop, because it is so painful afterward." I wondered if he wanted me to kill him, but I suppose he must have been joking.
"Hell in a Handbag" No.7
I loved Ishida so much, "I wanted him all to myself. But since we were not husband and wife, as long as he lived he could be embraced by other women. I knew that if I killed him no other woman could ever touch him again", so around 2:00 in the morning on May 18th, while he was sleeping, I wrapped the sash twice around his neck and pulled like I had done before, only this time I didn't stop. "After I had killed Ishida I felt totally at ease, as though a heavy burden had been lifted from my shoulders, and I felt a sense of clarity." I laid with his body for hours, then cut his genitals off with the kitchen knife, wrapped them in a magazine cover and put them in my bag. With his blood, I wrote "Sada, Kichi together" on his thigh and a bed sheet, then carved 定 (Sada) into his left arm.
"Hell in a Handbag" No.8
I put on Ishida's underwear, got dressed, and left the teahouse, telling the staff that Ishida did not wish to be disturbed. I kept his genitals in my bag. "I couldn't take his head or body with me. I wanted to take the part of him that brought back to me the most vivid memories." Having them was helpful when the police didn't believe my identity. Three days after I left the teahouse in Ogu, police came to visit me at an inn in Shinagawa. They were very formal. "Don't be so formal," I told them, "You're looking for Sada Abe, right? Well, that's me. I am Sada Abe." They didn't believe me. I don't know what they were expecting, but clearly they weren't expecting me. I produced the magazine paper and unwrapped it to reveal Ishida's genitals. They arrested me and brought me in for numerous interrogations.
"Hell in a Handbag" No.9
I asked to be put to death, but I was sentenced to 6 years in prison, and was released after 5. The judge did not believe that I would have ever killed anyone but Ishida, which was true, but I had desperately wished to join Ishida in death. The first anniversary of his death was especially difficult, but the prison staff were loving and caring people who made me feel a part of their community and allowed me to study Buddhist Teachings. Even so, out of prison, I could never escape my name. I was forever branded a pervert, and the beautiful relationship I had with Ishida was turned into nothing more than tabloid fodder and erotic literature.
"Hell in a Handbag" No.10
"The thing I regret most about this incident is that I have come to be misunderstood as some kind of sexual pervert. There had never been a man in my life like Ishida. There were men I liked, and with whom I slept without accepting money, but none made me feel the way I did toward him." There was one bastard who tried to pass off the police interrogations as an actual interview with me, even though the police records had already become a national bestseller years earlier. He made a terrible picture of my love for Ishida, and portrayed us as perverts. I sued him for libel and for defamation of character, and wrote my own autobiography, Memoirs of Abe Sada. You can read that if you want the true story.
"Hell in a Handbag" No.11
Between the erotic novels and the way everyone made me out to be a sexual deviant,
I eventually left any life in the public eye for good. I hadn't planned to be around this long. The day I was arrested, I went for a massage and bought some beer at the inn. I spent the rest of the day writing farewell letters to my friends and to Ishida, and spending time with his genitals. "I felt attached to Ishida's penis and thought that only after taking leave from it quietly could I then die. I unwrapped the paper holding them and gazed at his penis and scrotum. I put his penis in my mouth and even tried to insert it inside me. It didn't work however though I kept trying and trying. Then, I decided that I would flee to Osaka, staying with Ishida's penis all the while. In the end, I would jump from a cliff on Mount Ikoma while holding on to his penis." Alas, this was never to happen. I eventually shaved my head and finished my life at a nunnery in Kansai, which was almost as peaceful as death.
Valerie Pape struts straight from the annals of film noir. Composed and collected, she's a classic femme fatale, never revealing more than what is absolutely necessary. Undoubtedly aware of women in similar situations being scrutinized and dissected from every angle, Valerie remained an enigma, eliminating the all too common scenario of her words being used against her. Inspired by the Noir classic "Double Indemnity," and the iconic character of Phyllis Dietrichson, this shoot uses chiaroscuro lighting and portrays Valerie with the same irresistible duality of Mrs. Dietrichson. Kind and gentle, stoic when necessary, and capable of getting her hands very dirty when it came to the murder of her abusive husband, Valerie is anything but one dimensional.
"Second Degree" Poster
"Second Degree" No.1
One early January morning I was caught dumping my husband's disembodied torso in a dumpster. I suppose that makes me look awfully wicked, and perhaps I am a bit wicked, but is anything in life ever as simple as it seems? And is anyone you meet ever entirely what they seem? There's always a myriad of variables, of nuances, of little cracks that allow room for interpretation. You just have to look a little longer. First glances are often deceptive.
My case never went to trial. I was able to make a deal by pleading guilty to second degree murder charges. For that, I spent 16 years in prison, but if I'm being honest, I didn't really mind. To be quite frank with you, prison was far better than my previous situation, and a hell of a lot safer. Do you see the cracks starting to spread now? Allow me to explain.
"Second Degree" No.2
If you ever find yourself married to an older man, particularly a wealthy older man, don't be surprised when people start assuming you've married for money. It hardly matters how successful you've been in your own endeavors, all that is easily overlooked. I owned a very successful salon, and the downstairs doubled as an art gallery. I displayed work by local artists. Even one of the politicians around here had paintings and sculptures there. He was quite good, a better artist than politician if you ask me. But I hear he's kept up with both, so what do I know? Anyway, I had my own wealth, and I certainly didn't need a husband. I married Ira because when we first met, he was very good to me. He owned a restaurant, and he approached me while I was dining there alone. He was rather forward, but charming nonetheless, and I fell for him rather quickly.
"Second Degree" No.3
At first, our marriage was a happy one. We were both rather busy, but the moments wedid spend together were pleasant and fun. Then, Ira's business ventures started deteriorating, and he took to drinking. He blamed me for everything. Any time I'd come home with a new hat or a pair of shoes, he'd scold me for spending all of "his money." Never mind that I was purchasing these things without any help from him. He'd drink too much and slap me around. He would often have flashbacks to his time in Vietnam and that's when he'd become especially violent.
"Second Degree" No.4
Things began to escalate. He frequently broke things, beat me up, and held a gun to my head. After an especially violent outburst, in which he threw knives at me, I ran to a friend's house. I didn't feel safe in my home anymore. I was living in constant fear. It was just terrible. He'd never let me have a divorce. He was such a jealous man. He'd rather see me dead than with someone else. I was a possession to him. I grew to fear him. Then that fear turned to hate, and I hated him so much, and yet I felt so trapped.
"Second Degree" No.5
I bought a gun, and I began taking shooting lessons. I was just awful at first, but I learned quickly, and it gave me some peace of mind. I wasn't helpless anymore. I knew how to protect myself, and the best part was that he knew nothing of it. And in that, I felt as if I had some small form of power to myself. At the time I didn't realize how valuable that would be.
"Second Degree" No.6
One night in January, Ira's temper got the best of him again. I believe I may have broached the topic of divorce or something. I don't remember. I only know that jealousy overtook him. There was a look in his eyes -- he was like a rabid animal. He wanted me dead. I remember his mouth moving... so rapidly, spitting foam, saliva dangling from the cracked corners of his worn lips, and I only heard a faint ringing in the thick air. Everything in my body felt still. He turned to fix another drink and the stillness remained as I slid the gun from my bag and I pulled the trigger four times.
"Second Degree" No.7
I watched his giant, hulking mass fall to the floor, and I felt peace for the first time in years. It was as if I'd been tiptoeing around a room full of sleeping snakes and suddenly they all disappeared. I wasn't entirely sure however, that they wouldn't reappear. So I sat down at the bar and I took his drink. I laid the gun down, but I kept it close to me. I lit a cigarette. I planted my gaze firmly on him. I had to be sure. I drank his scotch and I ashed on his carpet, daring the snakes to attack. But he didn't move. And with each sip and with each drag, I began to feel as if freedom wasn't so distant after all.
"Second Degree" No.8
I suppose you know what happens next. I wasn't really afraid of going to prison, (it was well worth it) but at this point, there was no going back. What would be the point of turning myself in? What kind of woman would I be if I didn't even try? And besides, he'd ripped me apart enough over the years. It was his turn.
"Second Degree" No.9
I took care of most of him. You'll remember I mentioned earlier that I was caught dumping his disembodied torso. That's what did me in. But it's also all they found of him. As much as he tormented me over the years, why should he get to rest in peace? Or in one piece for that matter. For the sake of his family? While I was in jail, my good for nothing step-daughter was going around town writing checks in my name. And, when I was scheduled to be transferred back to my native France, she fought it, believing that jail in France might be too lenient. So the people of Arizona payed to house me for 16 years because one spoiled, resentful young woman had to have her way.
"Second Degree" No.10
I suppose I may be too hard on my stepdaughter. I did take her father away from her after all, even if he was a wretched man. The thing that gets to me is how people fail to see that the ones they love are capable of horrid things. A lot of my friends were shocked that I did what I did. I know he was her father, and I understand that she loved him. He was a good father to her. But I truly hope that should she ever find herself married to a man like her father the people in her life will be less complicit in his treatment of her than she was with his treatment of me. Everyone has their breaking points. I suppose I may have reached mine quicker than some people, but I don't regret it. I'd still be trapped if I hadn't.
Leaning over her husband's mutilated dying body, Clara Harris chastised him: "Look at what you made me do."
Just released in 2017, Clara Harris spent 20 years in prison for both repeatedly and fatally running her husband over with her car.
By most accounts he was, quite frankly, a dick. Cheating on Clara, telling her about his infidelity, and then making an empty promise to leave the other woman if Clara could become more like her. He conveniently provided her with a list of all her faults and ways to improve upon them, which included losing weight, a breast augmentation, and being more available for sex.
There’s some debate over whether or not this excuses Clara’s behavior, but there is something to be said for the fact that his own parents testified in her favor. The jury seemed to feel some sympathy towards her as well, for while her guilt was fairly evident, they found it to be a crime of "sudden passion," thus carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years. Without the "sudden passion" finding, 20 would have been the minimum. Perhaps they understood the feeling of being pushed to one's limits, or maybe a small part of them even relished the idea of enacting revenge on someone who has long tormented you.
"Oh Honey, Look What You Made Me Do!" Poster
"Oh Honey, Look What You Made Me Do!" No.1
You know, there's only so much a girl can take. And that's the point I reached--the point of no return. When you're finally so angry and exhausted that rage just consumes you. It fills your brain and your heart and poisons every nerve and vein in your body until it's all you can feel. Until it becomes you. You ever drink to the point that you start to loose control of your senses and you don't remember anything come morning? Rage'll do that to you too. Only your actions will likely be much, much uglier, and you've lived with it for so long that come morning, it'll be gone and you won't know who the hell you are anymore.
"Oh Honey, Look What You Made Me Do!" No.2
Ten years I was married to that bastard. The day I was sentenced would have been our eleventh anniversary. I had two children with him, and I raised his other daughter Lindsey as if she were my own. I would've done anything for those kids, and I would have, and damn near did, anything and everything for David. But he was one of those people where nothing was ever enough for him.
"Oh Honey, Look What You Made Me Do!" No.3
For him, dinner was never good enough, sex wasn't often enough, I wasn't attractive enough. Please keep in mind that we were both dentists. Our practice ran two offices, and I worked at one, where David would work occasionally, but he spent most of his time at the other office. I worked. I took care of the children. I tried to take care of David. But when it came down to it, apparently the biggest thing lacking in our marriage was a mistress. He began an affair with his assistant, because if David was going to be a cliche, he was going to be the worst possible kind.
"Oh Honey, Look What You Made Me Do!" No.4
I loved him dearly. As his mother said at trial, I may have loved him too much. She was right. When David told me he was having an affair, those natural feelings of anger, sadness, and betrayal got shoved into the deepest recesses of my mind. My marriage took precedence over everything. The life we'd built together, the business, our precious children, it was my responsibility to keep all those things safe. I figured there must be something I was doing wrong, something I could change, that would keep him from looking for attention elsewhere.
"Oh Honey, Look What You Made Me Do!" No.5
I begged him to tell me what was so special about this other woman. What was I doing that wasn't good enough? How could I get him to fall back in love with me? He said I had to loose weight, she was thinner than me. I needed a breast augmentation, she had one and it made her more appealing. I needed to fix the way I looked, she was prettier than me. I needed to be better in bed, he liked having sex with her, not me.
"Oh Honey, Look What You Made Me Do!" No.6
And suddenly, the woman who was both a former beauty queen and a respected dentist was gone. Back then, I would have described myself as strong, confident, intelligent, and attractive, beautiful even. But now, I was just fighting to become Gail. Because my husband wanted Gail, not Clara. I was nothing but an empty shell, and I began to fill with rage.
"Oh Honey, Look What You Made Me Do!" No.7
He told me he was going to end the affair. Now, I may loved my husband, but that doesn't make me dumb and it sure as hell didn't make me trust him. I knew exactly where he was going to "break things off" -- the same hotel where we shared our vows ten years ago. I hired a PI to trail him.
"Oh Honey, Look What You Made Me Do!" No.8
The next time we were in contact, the PI informed me that the liar & the tramp were exactly where I thought they'd be, but if they were "breaking things off" they were saying a very long goodbye up in a hotel room. You know I hightailed my too-fat-for-my-asshole-husband ass over there.
"Oh Honey, Look What You Made Me Do!" No.9
When I saw them walking hand in hand in the lobby, I lost it. All of the feelings I'd been suppressing came bubbling to the surface and overflowed in a fit of rage. I lunged at Gail -- I don't ever remember feeling anger towards her but I hated how she was everything I could never be to David. More accurately, she was what David once saw in me but no longer did. Everything I did, the wonderful relationship I had with his parents, especially his mother, who I loved like she was my own, caring for his daughter, who, again I loved as my own, our dear sons, our business, our marriage--he threw it all away and spat on it as it hit the ground. That's what was running through my mind as I attacked Gail. I don't remember doing it, but I'm told I did. Clawing and biting her, like I was an animal, they said.
"Oh Honey, Look What You Made Me Do!" No.10
Honestly my biggest regret is that my stepdaughter was in the car with me. After attacking Gail and being thrown out of the hotel I was still blinded with rage. I don't know if there was anything going on in my mind at the time, but I saw them walking towards Gail's car and I just gunned it. David bounced off my windshield and fell back to the pavement. They said I circled three times, running over his body each time. Poor Lindsey had to witness that, and feel the bump of her fathers body with each revolution. I was lucky enough to be in a trance. I didn't feel a damn thing. I scarcely remember any of it. My only memory is getting out of the car and kneeling next to him, "David," I said "look at what you made me do."
"Oh Honey, Look What You Made Me Do!" No.11
I suppose I was naive to think that making superficial changes could have saved our marriage, but I was so obsessed with the idea, so convinced it was possible, I needed to have some type of control over my life and my marriage that it just consumed me. I truly believed I could singlehandedly fix our tattered marriage. Meanwhile, he was telling Gail that he would be leaving me soon, leading her to believe that he'd soon make her his next wife. And maybe he would have, but it turned out that this wasn't his first affair. He'd been unfaithful throughout most of our marriage and I doubt he had any plans to change his ways with a new wife. Part of me thinks that it's better this way, Gail and my stepdaughter get to remember him fondly, my relationship with his parents is still wonderful, and they can raise our sons to treat women much better than David ever could have. I like to think I saved a lot of women a lot of unnecessary heartache at the hands of David Harris. And who knows, if I hadn't killed him first, Gail or some other scorned spouse may have done him in later on down the line.
In August 2000, Kathleen Hagen suffocated both of her parents in their sleep. Kathleen was an accomplished Urologist, but struggled with depression and mental illness for years. It was determined that she was delusional when she committed the murders, and became increasingly suicidal following them. She was committed to a state mental institution and died in 2015 at the age of 69.
The aesthetic of this series draws inspiration from the 1960’s French Film, “Blood & Roses,” and employs horror themes along with my usual pin up and retro imagery.
Read more about my thoughts on Kathleen Hagen, Blood & Roses, depression and psychosis here.
"Blood & Feathers" Promotional Poster
"Blood & Feathers" No.1
I used to call this place home, and I was happy here, or at least I pretended to be. I was never good enough, but I always believed that if I worked harder, if I was more successful, more intelligent, that one day my parents would be proud to call me their daughter. But things didn't work out that way.
Now feathers hang in the air, cradled by the thick smell of decay--not just of flesh, but of the lives that once were, of my former self, and of my parents' ever fading love for me.
"Blood & Feathers" No.2
When I look back now, I realize that I was successful at one point in my life. I graduated from Harvard Medical School, became the first female resident in urology at Massachusetts General Hospital, and went on to be appointed chief of urology at Rutgers Medical. When I look back I recognize my accomplishments, but at the time I was burdened with stress, and the nagging voices of my parents (both in real life & in my head) that told me I couldn't handle the pressure. I should give up. I was an embarrassment.
"Blood & Feathers" No.3
After two failed marriages, multiple hospitalizations to treat my manic depression, and a doomed business venture in the Virgin Islands, I was forced to return home. At the time, I was convinced that I was destitute, although I had more than enough money to live on my own. I suppose my parents health was also failing, and I didn't know how much longer I'd have with them. I wanted to help them, and, maybe selfishly, I was longing for their comfort and understanding after all of my failures.
"Blood & Feathers" No.4
I was naive. My parents had never been the comforting kind. I don't know why I believed things might have changed. Still, I longed for their reassurance as I felt everything toppling around me. I descended deeper and deeper into the darkest recesses of my mind.
"Blood & Feathers" No.5
I'd had two marriages. My parents didn't like that. My father called me a slut and a harlot. After my first marriage failed, my ex-husband said, "I think we came to an understanding that her principal emotional relationship was with medicine rather than with me." I suppose he was right. Things went nicely for awhile with my second husband, but the pressures of my job and my parent's disapproval lodged something loose in my brain. I plunged into a deep depression, which was discovered to be of the manic variety, but with medication I could resume a normal life.
"Blood & Feathers" No.6
I was functioning well on my medication for awhile. I was able to go back to work, and things were returning to normal. Too normal, I suppose. I was falling back into old habits of overworking myself and depriving my body of sleep and food. My second husband suggested a move to the Virgin Islands where we could run a bed and breakfast -- a way to escape my constant stress.
"Blood & Feathers" No.7
Things went well for awhile until a hurricane destroyed our Inn. Our marriage quickly met the same fate. I was a perfectionist and demanding, and I frequently expected the same from him, not realizing that his calm personality was a large part of what kept me from unraveling. We often realize too late that we're pushing loved ones away. He was still providing me with alimony and health insurance, but I was foolish. This was the point I returned to live with my parents. This was the beginning of my undoing.
"Blood & Feathers" No.8
I was no longer sleeping. I was no longer eating. My parents barely spoke to me. But suddenly, I began to hear them -- in advertisements, in playing cards, through the television set & traffic lights. They were trying to communicate with me. And I was listening.
"Blood & Feathers" No.9
My father's voice bid me to kill the bodies of him and my mother. My mother's voice assured me it was ok, once their bodies were gone, we would all live peacefully in a sphere of happiness. There were just a few simple rituals I had to follow, like taking the stairs up and down backwards and repeatedly walking in circles. I was overjoyed at the thought that they would love me again.
"Blood & Feathers" No.10
I suffocated them both in their sleep.
"Blood & Feathers" No.11
Then I waited, laying between them, following the rituals whenever the female voice instructed me to. The male voice was gone. I was sure I'd be transported to the sphere where we'd all be happy. It was only a matter of time. I was patient.
"Blood & Feathers" No.12
Days passed. The female voice grew quieter and quieter until she stopped speaking completely. I walked the house in a daze. I curled up between my parents and wept. Why had it not worked? What did I do wrong?
"Blood & Feathers" No.13
I looked into my father's dead eyes, and at my mother's decaying face. I did this. I had killed them. There was to be no reunion. The sphere was a lie. Happiness was a lie. I laid there for a few more moments, contemplating my reality, then reached for the phone.
Caril Ann Fugate
Caril Ann’s story is interesting not just for how bizarre the crime spree was: her ex-boyfriend Charles Starkweather killed 10 people over the course of two weeks, & had killed another just two months prior. The fascinating thing is how it speaks to our society, the way we view girls as older than they actually are, & the fact that guilt often boils down to perceptions.
In this series, I’m obviously not portraying a 14 year-old Caril, and I must admit that her age made me hesitant to tackle this story. But I think it’s important to call attention to the way that we, as a collective society, view teenage girls.
Read more about my opinions on Caril and the intense scrutiny teenage girls are subjected to here.
“Teenage Nightmare” Poster
“Teenage Nightmare” No.1
This is what you’re expecting, right? A sexed up, rebellious bad girl, with a cigarette in hand and a switchblade in her nylons. That’s what they all wanted when I was on trial anyway — the lethal Lolita, the budding femme fatale, the teenage Bonnie to Charlie’s Clyde. A lot of people seem to have this fascination with the twisted romanticism of a killer couple. Maybe there’s something sexy in the danger of it all, or we’ve heard one too many stories of teenagers who would do anything for forbidden romance. Maybe it’s just easier to assume malice or insanity than it is to wrap your head around the irrational choices of a pubescent girl. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for that wicked, experienced-beyond-her-years girl, I’m afraid you’ll leave here quite disappointed.
“Teenage Nightmare” No.2
I can’t say for certain that I wouldn’t have killed anyone. If it meant saving my family — this is what always tears me apart — I don’t know how far I would have gone to save them I wish he’d just killed me and got it over with. There was so much needless pain and suffering, when I should have been the object of his ire. But I think Charlie just liked killing. He never asked me to do anything like that, he was more than happy to do it himself. I remember hearing he said “I always wanted to be a criminal, but not this big a one.” But I don’t think that’s true. He loved the notoriety and he loved being feared.
“Teenage Nightmare” No.3
This all started when I was thirteen, and my older sister introduced me to a guy named Charlie. He was older, a high school drop out, and he dressed like James Dean. You know how there’s just this appeal of bad boys when you’re that age? Unfortunately Charlie was a little too bad. One time he gave me a stuffed bear that he’d acquired by killing and robbing a gas station attendant. Of course, I didn’t know that when he gave it to me, and by the time I’d figured out just how bad he was, it was too late, and I was in way over my head.
“Teenage Nightmare” No.4
Charlie and I dated for about a year when he started to become increasingly possessive, wanting to keep tabs on me at all times. I was beginning to think he might be crazy, so, after expressing my concerns to my mom, I decided to break things off with him. He wouldn’t accept that though. He kept showing up at the house and eventually my momma had to get involved and tell him he wasn’t welcome there anymore. He turned to me and said that he’d make sure no man could ever have me. That promise held true until I eventually got married at sixty-three years old.
“Teenage Nightmare” No.5
I came home from school and Charlie was standing inside the door. My mom, my stepfather, and my baby sister were gone. They were at this woman’s house — a friend or acquaintance of his or something. As long as I did what he said, he told me, they’d be just fine. But if I didn’t, all he had to do was make a phone call and they’d be dead. I suppose I was naive to trust him, but what other choice did I have? We stayed in the house for about a week. He had me put a sign on the door to keep people away, watching over my shoulder as I wrote. “Stay away,” it read, “Everyone sick with the flu.” Then I signed it “Miss Bartlett.” The only “Miss Bartlett” in the house was my two year old sister. It wasn’t suspicious enough that he’d think anything of it, and I could just as easily have used “Miss” instead of “Mrs.” by accident. But my mother wouldn’t likely call herself “Miss,” and I underlined the name twice for emphasis, so I hoped someone would catch it, and realize something wasn’t right. No one ever did. My sister, my brother-in-law, my grandma, even Charlie’s brother — they all came knocking, but if I let them in or asked for help — Charlie was standing behind the door, gun in hand. I just kept praying they’d see it on my face or pick up on my little clue. Finally suspicious, but clearly not cautious, my grandmother threatened to call the police. I’ll never understand why she made the threat instead of just doing it, but its the moment when things went from bad to worse.
“Teenage Nightmare” No.6
We got in the car and Charlie drove to a farm he’d hunted at before. The farmer was friendly. He wasn’t suspicious or rude. He said we could stay there. Charlie had no reason to shoot that man, but he did. He shot him and then beat his poor dog to death with the butt of his shotgun. I thought “If he could do that to someone who hadn’t upset him, what would he do to me? What would he do to my family?” There was so much rage inside of him and he treated killing as a welcome catharsis. That was the moment — as he stood there, splattered with blood, contented and admiring his handiwork — that his threats really began to sink in.
“Teenage Nightmare” No.7
That night, things only escalated. A young couple offered us a ride. Her name was Carol too, and he raped her, becoming more and more violent, before shooting both of them and tossing their bodies in a storm cellar. He drove their car to a fancy neighborhood, where he picked a house, went in, and killed everyone inside. He told me to get in their car, and we were gonna drive to Washington where he had a brother. We drove ten hours to Wyoming when he decided the car was “too hot,” and found a man sleeping in his car along the highway. He shot him, shoved his body under the dashboard, and told me to get in the car.
“Teenage Nightmare” No.8
Charlie couldn’t figure out how to work the emergency brake on this car though, and when a man came up to help, Charlie pulled his shotgun on him. Much bigger than Charlie, the man fought with him for control of the gun. A sheriff saw the commotion and drove up. I guess I just saw my chance. There was so much going on — the cop pulling up, the man fighting Charlie for his life, and the dead man sitting at my feet. I don’t even remember thinking, I just knew it was now or never, and I ran towards the sheriff like he was my last hope. I told him who I was, who Charlie was, and what had happened as Charlie jumped in the other car and tried to flee. It wasn’t long before they caught him, but my ordeal was far from over.
“Teenage Nightmare” No.9
How would you feel if the fate of your existence was being decided by a bitter ex? I think most of us would agree that their opinion of you could hardly be considered objective. And yet, the state of Nebraska decided that Charlie’s testimony was going to be the basis of their case against me. That and a couple of “surprise” testimonies where state officials went back on statements they’d made previously. Isn’t the Justice system grand? See, initially Charlie admitted that I was a hostage, and two deputies agreed to testify on my behalf, having already defended me to reporters. In court, however, Charlie started blaming me for some of the murders, and the deputies told the jury I’d confessed. Despite nothing to back up these claims, their words were enough, and there was no one to stand up for me, seeing as, you know, Charlie killed my family and all.
“Teenage Nightmare” No.10
I think my biggest problem was that I appeared calm.
I went through bouts of hysteria, sure, to the degree where they had to sedate me at one point, but that was when I first learned that my family was dead, when I realized I’d stayed by Charlie’s side for nothing. After that — after realizing that everything I cared about and was fighting for was gone, it was just easier to shut down. I was also placed in a criminal asylum for holding until my trial. After everything I’d seen Charlie do, and the horrors of the asylum, I felt numb. It was the only way to survive. I was so young, and I’d lived such a quiet, relatively sheltered life up until Charlie. Then it was so much in such a short period of time. My mind couldn’t really process everything that was going on, it all felt surreal. But people read that as cold and uncaring.
“Teenage Nightmare” No.11
People tried to blame me for a lot — that was hard. They said I killed Carol in a jealous rage, they said I watched television while Charlie killed my family ... while he put a gun down my baby sister’s throat. I didn’t understand how they could say these things. There was nothing to indicate they were telling the truth, but they were just allowed to print whatever they wanted. The thought that I could have been so callous... it’s always haunted me.
“Teenage Nightmare” No.12
Ultimately, Charlie was sent to the chair and I was sentenced to life in prison. I was a model prisoner, and granted parole by the time I’d reached my early thirties. I worked in a hospital — my criminal record prevented me from ever becoming a nurse, but I was able to do custodial work, contributing however I could. It was something. I didn’t date for quite some time. But in 2007, at age 63, I met Fred and everything changed. I told him everything, and he still wanted to marry me. I had a family again. I’ve lived a pretty quiet life ever since. I was nearly killed in a car accident that took my husband from me, and a friend of mine wrote a book that she hoped would change public opinion of me a little bit, but for the most part I live an uneventful life with my stepson and his family.
“Teenage Nightmare” No.13
I thought a lot about what I could have done differently. Sometimes I still do. People criticized my reluctance to escape, that I missed multiple opportunities. Those people have never been held captive by a psychotic ex-boyfriend with the fate of their entire family resting on their shoulders. It’s easy to pick apart my decisions, or to envision your own actions were you in such a predicament. But that’s all just fantasy isn’t it? Those are imaginary scenarios and imaginary reactions to those imaginary scenarios. It becomes much more complicated when you’re actually facing those demons. Still, these things change you. I think about it every day, all the pain and suffering those people went through. Those feelings never fade. Happiness is such a fleeting thing and excitement feels grossly unnecessary.
Winnie Ruth Judd
In 2014, a letter that Winnie Ruth Judd had written to her attorney Howard G. Richardson in 1933 was discovered within the Arizona State Archives. It had been there since 2002, when it was donated anonymously, along with other letters Winnie had written her deceased attorney’s wife, begging for the original letter back. Mrs. Richardson never did comply, but it is interesting that the family (who one can reasonably presume donated the letters) decided to wait until Winnie Ruth’s death to release the letters.
This new confession letter told a chilling tale of premeditated murder, although it also gave some insight into Winnie’s deeply deteriorating mental state. It matches up with police reports, trial transcripts, and recently discovered affidavits, but contradicts what many attorneys and historians had long believed about Mrs. Judd — that she killed her friends in self defense and had help dismembering one of the bodies. So sure was everyone at the time that the petite, frail Mrs. Judd could not have done this alone, the jury handed down a death sentence, hoping it would coax her into revealing her accomplices. She was ultimately declared insane and sent to a state mental hospital for nearly four decades, during which she escaped several times. Once, in 1962, she ran off to Northern California, called herself Marian Lane, and evaded the law for seven years. She was paroled in 1971, and she became a hot topic for both crime writers and legal historians.
"Unclaimed Baggage" Poster
"Unclaimed Baggage" No.1
On a Sunday evening in 1931, I walked into Phoenix’s Union Station and boarded the night train to Los Angeles. As I slept through the night, blood began to seep through my luggage trunks, pooling on the floor of the luggage car. I must admit though, however callous this may sound, that despite the uncertainty of what was to come, I slept more soundly during that overnight journey than I had in months.
"Unclaimed Baggage" No.2
When you’re feeling lost you will latch on to any strong voice that is willing to guide you — even if that voice is inside your head. And, oh, was I lost. My husband, whom I loved dearly, was addicted to alcohol and morphine. I had also begun to suspect that one of my dearest friends saw me as nothing more than a vessel to manipulate as she pleased. It wasn’t just me though — that was how Anne viewed the world: malleable and willing (or perhaps just too unwilling to put up a fight) to be moulded to her needs And her taunts! Oh, how I loathed her taunting and the way it kept me up at night. I longed for sleep. Just to finally get some rest. I was just so terribly exhausted. And Anne was just so terribly cruel.
"Unclaimed Baggage" No.3
You see, my husband was a doctor with terrible addictions. He would frequently need to go off to a sanitarium and “dry out.” I truly loved him, but I met Jack when I was alone and in a very dark place. He was good to me when I had no one else. He was the only man I had ever been with besides my husband, and I wasn’t proud of the affair. To the contrary, I was quite ashamed of myself, and Anne knew this. It was the perfect fodder for her taunts. She seemed to find great joy in taunting me and toying with my emotions, despite our close friendship.
"Unclaimed Baggage" No.4
Anne and I had been great friends. We worked together at a clinic and frequently chatted and took lunch together. She was much more experienced than I — both with men and with the world in general. And because she wasn’t married, she could do as she pleased when it came to Jack. Despite how ripe the situation was for gossip, we never did have a quarrel over Jack. Anne lived with Sammy, and we had all been intimate with Jack, but the papers would make it seem as if we were each vying for his attention, in constant competition with one another. Nothing could be further from the truth — we were all great friends and none of us were prone to jealousy in the least.
"Unclaimed Baggage" No.5
Problems didn’t arise until after Anne returned from a trip to Oregon. Prior to the trip, she and Sammy had become ill. I moved in to take care of them until they were feeling better. At this point, my husband and I were already living next door and Jack was a frequent guest at both of our homes. To my horror, he and my husband had become quite good friends. Despite my embarrassment, we were all quite close, and everyone happily lent Anne money to visit her family in Oregon. Jack even gave her $800, with no expectation of repayment. She had spoke of using the money for surgeries and medical care while she was in Oregon and Sammy and I, while not wealthy like Jack, were willing to go without basic necessities to help Anne. When she returned however, she had not gotten any of the medical treatments she’d spoken of, but had a brand new wardrobe, and was in debt far beyond the amount we had loaned her.
"Unclaimed Baggage" No.6
This is when Anne’s taunting began. Knowing my affections for jack, she would openly flirt and caress him in from of Sammy and me, looking right at me as she did it, just trying to rile my nerves. Then she’d laugh when he left, saying she had no interest in him but for his money. I couldn’t compete with her! She was single and skilled with men. When Jack came over, she was always fresh from a soak, made up and draped in chiffon. I was both married and weary from work when he called. I had never possessed a desire to compete for his affections. I was married with no intention of leaving my husband, and thought Anne and jack would make a fine couple if they so chose. But Anne was constantly challenging me, acting as if she was “beating” me in this game I had no idea or desire to be a part of, seemingly just to make me feel inadequate.
"Unclaimed Baggage" No.7
Anne’s taunts rung through my head all night long, never permitting me to sleep. I would think of her when I laid down to rest, of her incessant taunting, and my mind would craft terrible scenarios to make it stop. If I was occupied — at the office or entertaining some social matter, her words never crossed my mind, but as night fell and I settled into bed, I was tormented, taking more and more Luminal until I passed out in a drug-induced haze. I slept, but never rested. Even asleep, my dreams offered no respite from her taunts.
"Unclaimed Baggage" No.8
I knew I was going insane. I was up night after night, obsessing over Anne’s cruelty. I wrote to my family, I called my doctor, I was loosing my mind and I didn’t know what to do. I truly felt as if I was out of options. There was only one solution that made any sense to me: I had to kill Anne.
"Unclaimed Baggage" No.9
I didn’t have a plan, except to get to Anne, to silence the awful taunting so I could sleep and be rid of these disastrous voices for good. I brought along a gun and a knife, but I left the knife with my shoes outside the door. I entered quietly, and remained hidden on the couch as I heard them retreat to their bedroom. Anne was talking some more — blaming me for introducing Jack to a girl who turned out to have syphilis. My nerves began to rile more, but the Luminal took hold of me and I dozed off on the couch.
"Unclaimed Baggage" No.10
I awoke to Sammy walking down the hall to the bathroom. I started for Anne, but my chest started beating so rapidly, I could do nothing but lie back down. I fell asleep once again. It went on like that through the night — Sammy was up time and again to use the bathroom, and each time I woke and started for Anne, but couldn’t gather my strength or my footing, and I collapsed back onto the couch in a drugged stupor.
"Unclaimed Baggage" No.11
Morning! Sunlight bursts through the window and I hear Sammy in the bathroom again, this time washing up for work. I almost call out to her — forgetting why I’d come here. I hadn’t thought about Sammy, honestly. I was so focused on Ann that Sammy’s presence just never crossed my mind. Even in that moment, as I heard her in the bathroom, my focus was so steadfastly set on Ann that it never occurred to me that by default Sammy would have to be involved. I hadn’t considered her role in all this. My mind had been on a singular track with one mission: get to Ann so that I could rid my thoughts and my dreams of her taunts. I felt the cool metal of the gun nestled between my breasts, and I was filled with that insane desire. I was going to silence that god damned taunting.
"Unclaimed Baggage" No.12
I walked quickly, quietly, to the bedroom. Anne was still under the covers, snoring ever so softly. I stared at her peaceful face and watched it transform into the beast that plagued my dreams all night. I fired a low shot. Sammy called out, “What fell, Anne?” and I tried to rush back down the hallway, but was caught when Sammy emerged from the bathroom doorway. I fell limp when I saw her, nearly into her arms as she took the gun away from me and told me to leave. “Please give it to me, Sammy,” I pleaded, “I’m crazy. I have lost my mind and will blow my brains out right here in this doorway. Just give it to me.” She looked at me sternly. “You get out of here right this minute.”
"Unclaimed Baggage" No.13
I remember running to the garage, then a fight between me and Sammy, during which she shot herself, the gun caught the flesh between my middle and index finger, leaving a gash full of gun grease, and then I shot her, in my frenzied state.
Over the next 24 hours, I drug a trunk inch by inch from the garage into the living room, then drug Anne’s body in the same manner, at last getting her inside of it. Again, inch by inch, I drug Sammy to the bathroom. I went to work, told the boss Anne was ill, which he was not happy about as her attendance was already an issue. I returned home to feed my cat, then went back to Anne and Sammy’s where Sammy’s body was by now stiff and unmovable. I had no way of fitting it into a trunk. Grading knives from the kitchen, I cut her into more manageable pieces, and put those inside smaller pieces of luggage.
With all that settled, and my luggage in tow, I boarded the train from Union Station to Los Angeles, where my brother lived, hoping he could help me toss the trunks into the pacific ocean.
Of course, things didn’t exactly go according to plan, although I suppose you’ve figured that out by now, haven’t you?
“The Fatal Affair of Anne Bradley” Poster
“The Fatal Affair of Anne Bradley” No.1
Have you ever been in love, my dear? I mean the terrible, all-consuming, eyes for nothing else kind of love. It’s such a grotesque thing we subject ourselves to, isn’t it? Just to be at the mercy of another? And then to realize that you were in love with nothing more than a figment of your own imagination — not to say he didn’t help you conceive that figment, that illusion of a sweet, caring man, of a happy life, where you cared about and encouraged each other’s ambitions, and enjoyed spending time with one another and your beautiful children. The beautiful children that, along with the illusions, he helped you to conceive.
Then, after traveling across the country for the love of you life, you discover that this man is wretched. Not only does he have no interest in marrying you, he has taken the utterly repugnant step of disowning his very own children. What are you to do, my dearest? How, after giving all of yourself to this single, unappreciative person — it’s not just that he has nothing to offer you, but that he is so selfish, he does not know how to give, he only takes. And you, having exhausted all of your resources, have given him so much that there is nothing left of you. So how, my darling, do you attempt to go on from here?
“The Fatal Affair of Anne Bradley” No.2
Sometimes I still wonder if he helped me create that fantasy. I can never really be sure. Did I not just concoct it myself, because I wanted to believe that a man who’d father children with me was at least partially concerned with my well being? With the well being of our children? These things get more and more difficult ... telling fiction from reality anymore. I suppose the lawyers and the men in court decided I was insane, at least temporarily anyway. And I can’t say they’re wrong. By the time I caught up with Arthur, the stress, the miscarriages, the emotional torment — it was just too much. I was a shell of the woman I once was. I want to say that they were wrong, that I was never insane, that I knew exactly what l was doing, but I’m not as naive as I once was.
“The Fatal Affair of Anne Bradley” No.3
Sometimes we have to face the harsh reality that life places before us, and we see that not only have we been duped, but we’ve had reason after reason to wake up and realize it, only we were too stupefied by love to see it.
“The Fatal Affair of Anne Bradley” No.4
In the later half of the 1890’s, I became enamored with a man named Arthur Brown. Honestly, I protested his advances for the longest time. I had just separated from my husband, and I had a promising career in politics (I was a woman ahead of my time, darlings!) but he persisted, and eventually, he wore me down. I agreed to see him, despite my better judgment and the fact that he was married.
“The Fatal Affair of Anne Bradley” No.5
Of course in those initial stages of lust you’ll believe just about anything won’t you? And I truly believed the man when he said his marriage was falling apart, and they would be divorcing soon. I understood the difficulty, as my husband and I (while still technically married) were separated, and reaching that point was in and of itself so emotionally taxing, as the process of coming to terms with the fact that the love had been lost and the vows would be broken can be incredibly painful. I believed the scoundrel when we had sex in hotel rooms, when our son was born, and when we christened him Arther Brown.
“The Fatal Affair of Anne Bradley” No.6
The liar even gave me a ring at one point, said he’d began divorce proceedings. But his wife had other plans. She had us followed and arrested for adultrey. It wasn’t a big thing, they were already separated. But the next year, he went back and forth reconciling with her then professing his undying love for me. That year, his bitter wife — Isabel, a woman who’d once been the “other woman” herself, — attacked me in a hotel lobby. She grabbed my throat, threw me down, and screamed “let me alone, I will kill her!” Just as someone tore her away from me.
“The Fatal Affair of Anne Bradley” No.7
After that incident, Arthur gave me a revolver to keep myself safe. We both faced trial for adultrey, and he promised now that he would divorce his wife & marry me within 12 months — he didn’t want me to testify against him. I didn’t, but he never followed through on his end. He was still married to Isabel the following November when our second son was born.
“The Fatal Affair of Anne Bradley” No.8
Things became complicated as Isabel became ill with cancer, but immensely less so when the horrid affliction took her life two years later. “Go ahead and get your divorce and we will make this matter right,” he told me. Once again, I did as I was told, but his promises weren’t holding up. He kept putting off our wedding. Our third child was born, but lived only a few days. On our scheduled wedding date, Arthur phoned to say he was ill. I hung up the phone but I was devastated, "I just cried. I hoped I would die and I felt at times as if I should kill myself."
And yet, I still had hope he’d come through for me.
“The Fatal Affair of Anne Bradley” No.9
I pressed on. Pregnant once again, I just wanted to marry before the baby was born. But his intentions were a mystery. Sometimes he pledged his love and devotion to me, and promised a marriage in the near future. Then he’d become sad and distant and claim he could do nothing for me. It was unending torture. Then I found out he’d left Salt Lake City to plead a case before the Supreme Court. He hadn’t even said goodbye. To make matters worse, I suffered a miscarriage the same day. I couldn’t eat, or sleep, I was depressed and again thinking of suicide.
“The Fatal Affair of Anne Bradley” No.10
It was when I visited his office that I discovered he’d left behind money for me to buy a train ticket. I suppose he wanted to get me out of town. And I almost bit — I purchased a ticket for Los Angeles. Then it dawned on me: away from the local influences, Arthur would have no reason to marry me or acknowledge our children. He figured he could dissipate the pressure to do the right thing. He’d leave me destitute and our children forever bastards while he went on to do the same thing to some other poor, naive woman. I switched my ticket to Washington, DC. I wasn’t going to let this go without a fight.
“The Fatal Affair of Anne Bradley” No.11
The trip was difficult. My body was still recovering from the miscarriage, and the stress was causing my health to deteriorate more and more each day. But I was determined, and I made it to his hotel. I rented the room next to his & had a maid to let me into his room while he was out. I discovered letters proclaiming his undying love for another woman. There were promises of marriage. I felt ill. He just regurgitated the same meaningless pander to every woman he wanted to fuck. I walked around the city. I waited in my room. I thought and I thought.
“The Fatal Affair of Anne Bradley” No.12
As I laid in my bed, watching the ceiling, I head his footsteps coming down the hall. I listened to the key turn inside the lock. Then the slight creak of the door as he opened and shut it behind him. I went to knock. Our conversation was brief. I told him I expected him to keep his promise to me. He declined. The next day he was in a hospital bed with a bullet lodged in his pelvic bone and I was in a jail cell. All the sordid details of our affair were laid bare in the courtroom, but ultimately I was found not guilty and Arthur was pronounced dead. After that point, the only men in my life were my children. They just aren’t worth it, my dear. They are never worth it.
Dorothea Puente shocked Sacramento and the rest of the country in 1988 when seven bodies were unearthed from the garden in her backyard. Dorothea is a complicated woman, and the more you read about her, the more complicated she becomes.
Not only does she deny her guilt, she has fictionalized her entire life, and offers little in the way of explanations for any of the various crimes she‘s been convicted of. In an interview conducted by Martin Kuz for Sactown Magazine, an 80 year old Dorothea still refuses to answer any questions about her crimes. She instead focuses on her (imagined) time as a Rockette, (false) work as a nurse in WWII, and (nonexistent) friendships with Rita Hayworth, the Kennedy’s, Ronald Regan and his then wife Jane Wyman. “Me and Nancy,” she tells Kuz as she shakes her head “we never got along.”
Dorothea seems to possess the dumbfounding idea that, if people knew her, she could convince them she wasn’t a killer. It’s as if she’s lived in her delusions for so long, and survived by being both charming and deceitful, that she believes she can convince anyone of her innocence if they simply got to know her.
In this series, Dorothea will revert to fantasy, omit important details, and tell them in imagined ways. In other words, she is a very unreliable narrator.
Still, there’s an undeniable sadness to Dorothea. Her crimes are horrendous and show a complete lack of empathy for human life, but there’s something so odd in the fact that she still sends Christmas cards to her favorite ex-husband every year, clinging to a lost love that wants absolutely nothing to do with her. The truth seems to be that to him, as well as to the daughters she’s abandoned, Dorothea might as well be dead. And while she may admit as such, she still clings to her fantasy world, as if by believing in it long enough, she can will it into reality.
Read more about Dorothea’s crimes here, & my thoughts on her here.
“The Best Little Death House in Sacramento” Poster
“The Best Little Death House in Sacramento” No.1
You know they’ve never even spoken with me? All these people call me a murderer or a bad person, but “they don’t have all the facts.” How could they if they’ve never even met with me face-to-face? How can one determine the character of a woman they’ve never met? Look hunnies, I’m no saint, and I’ve never claimed to be. I’ve made many a mistake over the years. But my sins ... “my sins are between me and my God.” These other people just want to hate me, but all they do is tell lies. I don’t like to talk about it much, because it’s just so painful for me, but I’ve always been a gracious host — it’s the one thing I prided myself on above all else — and a good hostess would never allow her guests to fall bored! So I’ll give you the proper story, and maybe you can set some of those liars straight.
“The Best Little Death House in Sacramento” No.2
So. Let me clear the air here: I’m not guilty. The crimes they put me in prison for — for murder, serial murder no less, I didn’t do any of that. That’s not who I am. But you know, “God always puts obstacles in people’s way. Look at Job, John, Paul, Moses. Things happen for a reason.” I think I was put in prison “to give strength to other people.” So many women are in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, they all have very, very sad stories, and while I didn’t choose this life — I don’t think anyone would choose this life — I just hope that I was able to console them and help them get through it. Maybe God thought I could do more in prison than in the outside world.
*Words in quotations are Dorothea’s own, taken from interviews.*
“The Best Little Death House in Sacramento” No.3
I loved running my boarding house, and the social workers loved me for it. I’d help anyone. Some of these people, they had no where else to go, no other facilities would take them. They had problems with alcohol or drug use or severe mental illness, and most places saw them as too much work. But I was more than happy to help, and I loved the feeling of helping people get back on their feet. When Bert Montoya first came to live with me, he was off his anti-psychotic medication, he wandered the streets of San Francisco unwashed and disheveled, mumbling to himself and talking to trees.
“The Best Little Death House in Sacramento” No.4
In just a matter of weeks, I had Bert cleaned up both physically and mentally. He began taking better care of himself, washing and combing his hair, trimming his fingernails, wearing clean clothes. And it wasn’t just that — I convinced him to start taking his medication again, and the difference was remarkable. Bert could have a conversation with you now, in Spanish or English, and his grunts and mumbling to inanimate objects were a thing of the past. I even paid all of his expenses for awhile. His social security payments would take time to go into effect, and while other places may have demanded payment upfront, I took it upon myself to make sure Bert could recover without having to worry about money. All of this kindness however, would eventually come back to haunt me.
“The Best Little Death House in Sacramento” No.5
You know, have I told you yet that I was good friends with Rita Hayworth? No? Oh darling, we were such good friends! And Senator Kennedy and his wife Jackie — the fun we had! See, I was a Rockette at one time, and I met just about everyone. Those were the good old days.
Then I married and divorced and remarried, and the years began to take their toll on me. I wasn’t the beautiful young thing that I once was. But I put my charm to work elsewhere: I helped my community and those around me who needed food, shelter, or just a kitchen, conversation and a cup of coffee after a long day.
“The Best Little Death House in Sacramento” No.6
I ran into a bit of trouble while I was married to Axel Johanson. See, I was just visiting with a friend who worked as a bookkeeper, but unbeknownst to me, the store was a front for a “house of ill fame,” as they called it. I had nothing to do with any of it, I didn’t even know what was going on! But the law can be so cruel to innocent bystanders sometimes, and I was arrested and sentenced to 90 days in jail. The lies about this one! Oh hunnies, they tried to say I offered the undercover cop fellatio! Some even said I was owning and operating a brothel, a “madam” if you will. Lies, all lies. And to what gain? How can people be so cruel?
“The Best Little Death House in Sacramento” No.7
After my fourth marriage failed, I decided to open up my first boarding house. Like the boarding house I would open later in life, I worked on the belief that anyone was welcome. I wanted to do everything I could to help these down-on-their-luck neighbors and give them a home — some sense of normalcy. Despite years of success, everything came to a complete halt in 1978. There seemed to be problems with the way I was handling my boarders’ mail and their benefits checks. I received five years federal probation, which forbid me from opening up another boarding house. It had been my whole identity. I was hopelessly lost.
“The Best Little Death House in Sacramento” No.8
I took up work as an in-home caregiver. These weren’t the sort of people who needed me in the way that my boarding house residents did, but I still had the satisfaction of helping people. Unfortunately they were the sort of people who enjoyed lying and slandering the woman who was caring for them. It all started with a man I had met at a local bar. He went to the police and claimed I’d drugged him and stole money, checks and jewelry from him. The people I’d been caring for started saying I’d stole from them too, and I was sentenced to five years in jail, but I only had to stay for three because I had good behavior. Even law enforcement thought I was a good person!
“The Best Little Death House in Sacramento” No.9
It was then that I started my second boarding house venture. This one was smaller — I only had room for about eight people, but I started it with the same principals: I would help those who needed it the most, who had no where else to go. It brought me so much joy! I felt like I was doing God’s work. And once again, social workers in the area were overjoyed that I’d take in their most”difficult” cases.
“The Best Little Death House in Sacramento” No.10
So ... now we get back to Bert Montoya. You remember him right? The one I fixed up and gave all that money to? Well, he had a social worker looking for him, and I told her everything I knew — he’d taken a trip to Mexico, returned for his things, and went off to visit family in Utah. He’d been doing so well, I didn’t see any cause for alarm. His social worker did not share my sentiments. She just insisted that I must have done something terrible to him, and badgered the police until they agreed to investigate me.
“The Best Little Death House in Sacramento” No.11
When the cops arrived to ask about Mr. Montoya, I told them the same thing I’d told his social worker — to the best of my knowledge he was in Utah, spending time with his family. Another resident confirmed what I’d told them, and when they left, I assumed all was well. As it happened, they returned the next morning and asked if I wouldn’t mind them searching the house. Now honey, you know I’d never refuse a handsome gentleman in uniform, so I gladly welcomed them in. Besides, I had nothing to hide! ...aside from the fact that I wasn’t supposed to be running a boarding house, of course, but I’d gotten around that in the past. Naturally, I slipped into hostess mode: I offered them coffee and everything — as I said, hospitality is just so important to me, and it seems to be a dying art these days.
Anyway, they searched my home and nothing was out of the ordinary so they inquired about digging in the backyard. I’ll admit this made me a bit nervous — I certainly didn’t want my beautiful rose bushes and azaleas reduced to petals. The detective was quite the gentleman, however, and he assured me that they would work with great care and put everything back in its proper place once they had finished, so my mind was at ease. Those silly men only brought two shovels for the three of them though! So forgetful! But you knownI’ve been married a few times, so I know how men can be. Thankfully I’m an avid gardener, so I was able to lend them an extra.
“The Best Little Death House in Sacramento” No.12
It turned out my shovel was the one that would unearth an old leg bone. I was just as shocked as the detective! I gasped and nearly fainted at the sight, but I managed to hold it together, as one does in the company of guests. I told him “I don’t know what to tell you.” I truly didn’t. As it turns out however, old bones aren’t all that uncommon to find in midtown and downtown backyards. These vestiges of the Great Depression serve to remind us of a time when families were forced to bury loved ones on their own property, not being able to pay funeral or burial costs. It’s such a gruesome thing to discover, and yet, it makes one both appreciate what they have and feel such empathy for these poor souls who had to bury a loved one in the backyard. It’s very tragic. Still, the detectives brought me in for questioning, which lasted about two hours, but unfortunately there was scarcely any information I could provide — I’d already told them everything I knew.
They said they’d return in the morning. I was dreading their return. Onlookers would surely gather around the place, and I just couldn’t bear to see the other remains that surely must have been close to the leg bone. It was just too gruesome, to tragic.
“The Best Little Death House in Sacramento” No.13
An officer was stationed outside my home to try and keep the vultures at bay, but before the others even arrived, my house was surrounded by nosy neighbors. Children had scaled trees to peer into my backyard. It was all quite awful. When the lead detective — the handsome one — arrived, I asked him if I was under arrest. I had no clue how any of this worked. He reassured me, saying ‘no, no, of course not Dorothea,’ and I told him how it was all riling my nerves. I asked if it would be allowed for me to visit the inn down the block, to have a cup of coffee away from all these crowds. They were happy to escort me through the large crowds of gawkers and I walked down the street to the inn.
“The Best Little Death House in Sacramento” No.14
I must say, my nerves were just getting the better of me to no end. I visited the bar next door for a vodka and orange juice, hoping this might relax me a bit. I gulped down the first and sipped on a second, but to no avail. I finally decided I just had to get away. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I was a good person, dammit, and I didn’t deserve all this public scrutiny, especially after all the good I’d done for that community! I fled to Los Angeles, armed with $12,500 in cash, and booked a room at a run-down motel.
Sitting there that night, I realized I couldn’t run away from it. Flashing across the television screen were images of my home, body bags coming from my backyard, a wanted poster. My wanted poster. I wanted to kill myself. But, I’m a god-fearing woman, and I know its the unpardonable sin. I had to live with this. I knew they were going to blame me for all of it. Despite everything I did for these people. And I’ll tell you how fucked up this is: “First off, I was getting the checks. I didn’t need to kill anyone. Why would I waste all my time to get these people cleaned up, make sure they have no diseases, get all their affairs in order if I was going to kill them? ... The only time they were in good health was when they stayed at my home. I made them change their clothes every day, take a bath every day and eat three meals a day. These were people—the Salvation Army wouldn’t take them. When they came to me, they were so sick, they weren’t expected to live.”
But I took care of them. And now, they’ve just decided I’m a monster.
They would come and arrest me a four days later.
“The Best Little Death House in Sacramento” Publicity Still
Despite her conviction and the insurmountable evidence against her, Dorothea has always maintained her innocence. It’s not just that she denies the crimes either. When speaking to Martin Kuz from Sactown magazine, Dorothea spun her tales of being a Rockette and entertaining with the Kennedy’s. She remained quiet and stared at the wall when her crimes were called into question. She seems to feel that if she does not address them, they can’t possibly be true. Likewise, if she spins tall tales about her life, there’s no reason to doubt them.
Which makes one wonder: what’s it like to maintain a lie your entire life? Or rather, multiple lies?