Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Most Deadly Serial Killers--and why I could never be one


In response to a bad joke by a standup comedian who said he could never be a child molester because he didn’t have the money to buy an ice cream truck (it might take you a second), I began to reflect on the amount of work and subterfuge serial killers go through to lure, murder, and dispose of human remains. As a crime fiction writer, I can easily invent a serial killer, as I did in my novel CHILDREN OF THE STREET, but in real life, I’m amazed by the lengths to which serial offenders go to commit their dastardly deeds. Looking at some of the most infamous, serial offenders, I rate the level of difficulty (LOD) of their crimes and identify the deterrents that, apart from murder just being morally wrong, would prevent me from making the grade.

Theodore “Ted" Bundy

Bundy on 1978 FBI Most Wanted List
(From “Serial Killers, Time-Life Books)

I must say, I find it annoying when biographies and documentaries describe Mr. Bundy as “handsome, intelligent, and charming.” That's like saying a destructive wildfire is such a pretty color. Bundy confessed to the killings of 37 women, but some believe it might have been as many as 100 (some of these killers lose count). He roamed the states of Washington, Oregon Utah, and Colorado, often in his VW Beetle. He had a degree in psychology and later studied law, although he never got his qualification. He missed a lot of classes because he was out busy killing. It’s said he might have used his knowledge of psychology to his benefit in luring women to their death, but even if that were partially true, I believe he was just a natural conman.

Bundy is a classic example of what famous FBI profiler John E Douglas would call an organized serial killer: careful planning and execution of the murders. Disorganized killers are more opportunity-impulse offenders. Bundy used disguises and appealed to two aspects of human nature: (1) respect for authority: he sometimes pretended to be a cop; and (2) empathy: he would put on a false leg cast and use crutches, feigning difficulty in getting into his car with his intended victim nearby. As soon as she came to “help,” he kidnapped her. His victims were mostly dark-haired co-eds. He raped, strangled, and bludgeoned them, and sometimes had sex with some of the corpses. After Bundy's capture, he used his limited knowledge of the law to defend himself in court during a long, bizarre trial in which he had multiple episodes of histrionics. In a well-known but poorly-explained phenomenon, many young women who fitted the profile of Bundy’s victims, experienced strong sexual attraction to this ruthless killer, particularly while he was “conducting” his defense in court. On January 24, 1989, Bundy was executed with 2000 volts of electricity.

LOD 10

  • Driving around all those states with the present gas prices? I don’t think so.
  • I’m going to feel mighty stupid in those false getups and fake leg casts--I’ve never even dressed for Halloween before.
  • How do you get a screaming, struggling person into a VW Beetle? I don’t think I have that kind of physical strength.
  • I’m not a privileged white male. I’d never get away with it.

Richard “Night-Stalker” Ramirez

LAPD mugshot of serial killer Richard Ramirez
Richard Ramirez: LAPD mugshot 1984
(Image: Wikipedia/LAPD)

This particularly nasty piece of work was born in El Paso, TX, but operated as a serial offender first in Southern California's San Gabriel Valley (where I’ve lived for decades), and then moved the Bay Area. During those times, I remember the palpable fear generated in my neck of the woods by his nickname, the "Night-Stalker,” and “Valley Intruder.” His MO was to enter homes very late at night via an unlocked window or open screen door and proceed to torture, beat, rape, sodomize, and bludgeon his sleeping, startled victims to death. Unlike Bundy, Ramirez was all over the place with his victims: kids, the elderly, men, women, couples. With a horrific and violent childhood, Ramirez became fascinated by murder and the occult at an early age. He also suffered traumatic brain damage and temporal lobe epilepsy.
His murders were the very definition of overkill. Even after shooting his victims, he proceeded to chop some of them to pieces with a machete. His surviving victims often commented on one aspect: Ramirez’s disgustingly bad teeth and hideous breath. The LAPD made a connection between an eyewitness account, a fingerprint on a car he stole, and his police record. After his picture was released to the public, he was recognized by residents in Boyle Heights, a suburb of Los Angeles, who pursued him and ran him down, very nearly beating him to death in an explosion of vigilante violence. Again, as in Bundy’s case, many women declared their love for Ramirez during his trial. He was sentenced to the gas chamber, but never made it there when he died in 2013 from lymphoma.


  • You need gonads of a kind I don’t have to sneak around neighborhoods at 2 o’clock in the morning breaking into people’s houses. It’s too creepy for my taste.
  • I’m not getting out of bed that late at night for anything. I like sleeping and I have to work in the morning.
  • I brush my teeth frequently. When my would-be victims comment on this, I would probably be so flattered I would say, “Aw, thanks--you’re too kind,” and leave them be to go home to bed.

Dennis Nilsen

Dennis Nilsen, British serial killer
“British Butcher” Dennis Nilsen
(Image: “Serial Killers,” Time-Life Books)

The UK doesn’t have quite the roster of serial murderers as the United States, but they’ve had some pretty horrible ones, e.g. Peter “Yorkshire Ripper” Sutcliffe. Another was Dennis Nilsen, shown above. He was one of those killers to whom, quite unlike Bundy, few people paid that much attention. With spectacles and an unremarkable appearance, he probably never made any significant impact on people in public--the kind of person you see in the supermarket and never give a second thought.

But he was a killer, all right. His MO was to lure young gay men back to his flat, where he would kill them, butcher them and hide them under his floorboards.

Dennis Nilsen flat and plumber Mike Cattran who found the human remains
Nilsen lived on top floor; Mick Cattran (inset)
discovered the human remains in the sewer
(Image: “Serial Killers,” Time-Life Books)

Once the corpses became too decomposed and began to smell, he would bury them in a makeshift cemetery at the bottom of his garden. He burned some of his victims there as well, and no one in the neighborhood thought this was strange? Nilsen's problem was the burgeoning accumulation of bodies. Rather like Jeffrey Dahmer, he engaged in boiling his victims’ parts to make them easier to dismember. His downfall was trying to flush human remains down the toilet, which resulted in blocking up his apartment building’s plumbing, so that a foul stench permeated the place. A plumber had to unblock the toilets, and the source of the blockage was traced to Nilsen’s apartment.

LOD 6 for luring; 10 for disposal

  • The house smelling of anything else but fresh flowers and fragrances? I don’t think so.
  • Block your toilet with human remains? Are you looking to get caught, or are you just an incredibly stupid person?
  • Again, I’d have to be up practically all night with this nonsense. No, thank you.
  • Pulling up floorboards to hide human remains seems like an awful lot of work, and I’m not that handy. And what’s with these floorboards that have enough underlying space to hide people?

Elaborate execution
Many other serial killers had incredibly complex MOs: John Wayne Gacy, the "Killer Clown,” buried his young male victims in the crawlspace of his home, episodically pouring quicklime on them to accelerate decomposition. He killed almost always between 3 AM and 6 AM. Hillside Stranglers Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono Jr. kidnapped, raped, tortured, and murdered their victims before dumping them on Los Angeles Hillsides (LA has quite a panoply of serial offenders.)

The bottom line
My satirical post is really saying that what makes these killers different from the “normal” (I use the word with some caution) world is that their compulsion to murder trumps simple human physiological needs like, um . . . sleep, and easily overcomes normal deterrents like the fear of being caught. In fact, one reason many serial killers elude detection for so long is that they are fearless and are expert at hiding in plain sight, which, as Agatha Christie will tell you, makes mysteries even more difficult to solve.


Monday, January 17, 2022

Murder is Everywhere in the Metaverse

 Ovidia--every other Tuesday

I just created my first NFT!

Why? In an attempt to start off this year as an informed person, I attended a breakfast convention (with health checks, masks and social distanced seating) on what we can expect in 2022.

The best part was Kishore Mahbubani quoting an Arab proverb, ‘he who predicts the future lies, even when he tells the truth’.

That’s pretty much the last thing I understood though I did pick up something about NFTs (?) in the metaverse (?) replacing copyrights… 

As I understand it, an NFT or ‘non-fungible token’ is a record of who owns a unique piece of digital content. As long as something is digital and was created, it can be an NFT. Selling an NFT is like selling a license to use something you write, draw or otherwise create. You retain copyright and if the NFT you sell gets resold, you get paid 10% on subsequent sales.

It sounds like it should be a good thing, but made me very uncomfortable.

I don’t know if that's because this is how stone chiselers felt about calligraphers, how leather tanners felt about paper makers, how all of them felt about Johannes Gutenberg… (another time I'd like to write about Choe Yun-ui and his movable type frames 200 years before Gutenberg but with practically no lasting impact) or whether we’re being offered the latest Kool Aid?

So I decided to make an NFT and write this post about the process, because 
1) the best way to figure out something is to do it 
2) a deadline is my best motivation.

Step 1: I made this collage of all of us. Now it's digital, but how can I sell it as an NFT?

I need to choose a Gateway.

Gateways seem to be the department stores of the metaverse. 
Some I found are: Christie’s, Super Rare, Foundation, Nifty Gateway, Rarible, Mintable… but OpenSea claims to be largest with over 200 categories and 4 million items. I’m going by crowd wisdom this time.

This is the OpenSea landing page.

But now I find I need to create a digital wallet in order to sign into OpenSea. 

Step2: Getting a Digital Wallet

On a recommendation from OpenSea, I Googled, downloaded and installed a Chrome extension called MetaMask. 

Once there, following the instructions that came with Clicking on Create A Wallet was easy and the ‘secret recovery phrase’ (no, I’m not posting a shot of that here) makes me feel pretty safe and secure despite warnings that if I lose my recovery phrase, even their staff won’t be able to retrieve the Ether (which at the moment is zero) in my wallet. 

Step3: Back to OpenSea
Back at OpenSea, setting up an account was easy as OpenSea detected my MetaMask wallet as my ID. All I had to do was click on My Profile and respond to prompts. There’s an email confirmation to click on and I’m in!

Step 4: Creating my first NFT!
There’s a host of exciting stuff to look into—but right now I want to create my first NFT—and here it is! 

Clicking on ’Sell’ brought up options of selling at a Fixed Price or via a Timed Auction or in a collection with other creations. Since I’ve no idea what’s a good price and don’t have any other creations, I chose Timed Auction.

Step 5: $$$ or rather ETH

Up till this point, setting up everything was free, but to set up an auction I need to pay a one-time transaction fee called a ‘gas fee’ in ETH.

Google tells me Ether (or ETH, or units in the Ethereum blockchain) is the main currency in the metaverse. 

Also: WETH stands for Wrapped ETH because apparently Ether needs to be Wrapped before it can be used. There’s no packaging charge though—1 ETH is worth 1 WETH. 

I bought my ETH via MoonPay using my Visa card (I could also have used PayPal) by clicking Wyre on my MetaMask wallet. 

(Please click on the links to take a look--it doesn't cost anything and is just a way in so you can take a look around without setting up an account. Like so many other things, the Metaverse is less intimidating up close)

I've set the timed auction to run for a week. This way, I can write about how it turns out in my next post but one (because I’m saving my next post for Chinese New Year). 

Even if no one buys my first NFT I’m feeling really pleased with myself for having created it! I actually have an NFT out in the Metaverse!

So please come back on the 3rd Tuesday of February if you’d like to see how this works out. Or doesn’t.

Pablo Escobar’s Hippos

Annamaria on Monday


Last month, MIchael brought up a topic that is tailor-made for the likes of me. It links the history of arguably the most successful criminal ever with South America and Africa. It sent me to research and find out more. So here is my expansion on his fascinating post about cocaine hippos.


The Bad Guy


Though Pablo Escobar only lived to the age of 44, through crime he became one of the richest men in the world.  Like many other college dropouts, he started small, in his case selling illegal cigarettes, stealing cars, and counterfeiting lottery tickets.  Before he was done, he had a worldwide distribution system for his monthly shipments of 70 to 80 tons of cocaine out of Colombia.  His exports went pretty much everywhere.  He also massacred rivals, police officers, judges, people who just happen to live nearby, and politicians. For a while he became a politician himself and ran for office as a member of the Chamber of Representatives.  When he was shot by the police in 1993, his net worth was estimated to be $30 billion. The equivalent today would be $64 billion.


In this blog, though, we are going to focus on one of his minor crimes, the one Michael brought up. Once Escobar was established on his 20 km2 (7.7mi.²estate in Colombia, he broke a law by importing around 200 animals from all over the world for his private zoo. Among them, were four hippopotamuses – one male and 3 females.  After his death, the other animals were distributed to zoos all over Colombia. Because moving even one hippo is a major endeavor, the big beasts were left in the river where they were. The killer left behind a time bomb.



Africans in South America


In their native Africa, the hippo population is controlled by their natural predators and the local climate. The predators of course keep the population down by eating some of them.  But also, because their habitat in Africa is subject to periodic drought, the fluctuating food supply limits their population growth.

Those hippos that Escobar had brought into the country have no such enemies.  And its rich food supply has lowered the age of reproduction, boosting their birthrate.  By 2007, there were 16.   In 2019, there were between 90 and 120.  Estimates are that within a decade they will have spread to an area of 13,500 km² (5200 mi.²)  Left to their own devices, they will be out of control in less than 20 years.

Because they have the potential to change the ecosystem, conservationists consider them an invasive as a species.  They threaten the manatee already in danger of extinction, as well as the local otters and turtles and the endangered fisheries of the River Magdalena. Because they eat on land and poop in the water, they increase aqueous nutrients that can cause toxic algae blooms and kill off aquatic fauna.


When an ecological invader is a plant, the solution is to weed it out.  Not so easy with a critter that can weigh up to five tons and be very aggressive.

A simple expedient to get rid of them would be hunting.  Only one has been shot so far.  His name was Pepe, a hippo who chased and badly injured a local farmer. The army went in with two German hunters, who killed him.  Photos of the event in the news elicited a huge outcry from animal rights groups within Colombia and around the world.  And a flood of objections from those involved in local Echo tourism, for whom the "cute" hippos were a draw.

A splinter group of conservations posited that the hippos should be allowed to multiply.  There had been huge herbivores in that area in the Pleistocene age. Since they believe in “rewilding,” they feel that the imported African species could contribute to an outcome they consider desirable.  Mainstream ecologists reject this idea.  Still, those in favor of clearing out the hippos have become the target of abuse and death threats.

With shooting now off the table, those trying to avoid catastrophe have been seeking ways to limit the fertility of the big beasts.  They tried surgery on one male, which involved capturing, anesthetizing, castrating, and then releasing a creature of about 6000 pounds. It worked, but it cost a little over $50,000. Certainly, that was not the answer.  These days, they are using chemical castration.  The hope is that this technique will limit the population and forestall the future disruptive effects of the invaders.


                               Annamaria with her favorite hippo in Rome