It sounds quite odd, I know. Why would I be corresponding with a serial killer who had committed violent crimes most of his life?
I would never have thought of myself being in that unenviable position. But that’s what happened.
This man was in prison in another state for kidnapping young girls.
The 16 year old he’d kidnapped managed to escape from the house where he had taken them in Wyoming, and ran to a neighbor’s house for help.
As they waited for the police to arrive, the man took the other girl, who was 12, and was gone with her before he could be apprehended.
She was never found. Just like the girls in Oklahoma who went missing from the Oklahoma State fair where Royal Russell Long was working as a carnival worker.
We will never know how many missing girls this man might be connected to.
But just three days after Kinsey and Palletts’s disappearance, Sheryl Vaughn and Susan Thompson, both sixteen, were reported missing after the vehicle they were driving was found abandoned along a highway near Newalla.
They too, vanished without a trace.
The surviving victim who got away later testified against him.
He was serving two life sentences when he was brought back to Oklahoma to be tried for the state fair kidnappings.
A forensic chemist testified to hairs found and a bloody imprint. All circumstantial.
But without bodies, without the knowledge of the whereabouts of the Oklahoma girls, he managed to slip through the judicial cracks.
During the trial he taunted the parents, saying he was the only person who had any knowledge of what happened.
Definition of a serial killer: “The unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s) in separate events.”
Due to a variety of factors, I became enmeshed in this bizarre and tragic scenario.
I had interviewed the family of one of the girls kidnapped in Oklahoma, and published a detailed account of the day the girls were kidnapped from the fairgrounds.
And then another case caught my attention, and I moved on. I thought I’d gotten past what I felt that day standing in that missing girl’s room.
It was such an eerie and inexplicable feeling, standing there among her things. Left as thought she might walk back through the door any minute and continue her life as if it had not been so cruelly interrupted.
Try as I might, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
Those poor parents had no closure whatsoever. It had to be hell on earth.
And so it was, a few years down the road, that I got it into my head to write to this man in prison.
I didn’t think he would write back. I figured he would blow it off. But he did write back.
What ensued was a year long situation where we were, for lack of a better word, pen pals.
After you’ve asked your most pressing question, and he has charmingly evaded the answer yet promises more to come, you feel like you have to stick in there. On the off chance that he just might slip up or give up a clue.
Of course he didn’t. He was too cunning for that.
He claimed knowledge of what happened to those young girls. So what could I do? I was planning to go.
But the authorities nixed it at the last minute.
And so what do you write to a serial killer, you must be thinking?
Well, what you want to write, and what you do write, are two very different things in a situation like this.
I wanted to ask him why he took it upon himself to cut short the lives of innocent girls for his sick perversions.
But of course I did not.
I was…kind, I guess you might say. Or I was as kind as I could manage to be without retching every time I held one of his letters in my hand.
I read his words, and I responded. I asked my questions. He promised to give me the answers in person.
He wrote poetry to me.
I was not impressed. I was sickened.
Still I plodded on.
Soon a woman started contacting me who regularly visited him in prison. She took him things, creature comforts from outside the prison walls, and she gave him money. She was certain of his innocence.
I’ll never understand what it is about serial killers that attract a certain element of women to them. They even marry them, knowing they’ll never get out of prison. Or that they’ll be executed.
A few years after I stopped writing to him, once I was denied the visit with him, he died of a heart attack on the prison lawn. And he took the knowledge of those two girls, if in fact he had the knowledge that he claimed to have, to his grave.
You have to realize that it doesn’t matter if you live in a big city, or small town America. No place is safe from these types of predators. They will always find opportunities to get what they want.
And they won’t stop committing these unconscionable crimes until they’re incarcerated permanently. Or dead.