Tuesday, January 31, 2012

America's Growth Industry

Sondra London, whose work is fascinating, opens this almighty tablet of surreal ugliness with an introduction titled 'Murder Road'.

"Murder is America's number one growth industry," she begins.

In this intro, she discusses the importance of these stories: "Today's killers all share one fate: some are regular Joes, some are charismatic psychos, but having crossed that line they become one of  'them',  and are shunned by 'us'. Their physical presence is no longer tolerated, and their ideas, feelings, and works are dismissed as well. Yet, isn't there a vital significance to their stories? Afterall, even on Death Row there is life."

I concur with London, and can never understand why anybody would want to dismiss, for example, the writings of a killer, the fantasies of a rapist, or the poetry of a dictator. What makes any human being fascinating, criminal or non-criminal, is his history. We can learn much from criminals and miscreants. They provide us with a perspective that is rare and impossible to acquire by any other means. To know hell, you must go there. Or, you must return and tell your story.

First hand stories provide a type of insight that the psychiatric profession never will. As all the stories in this book attest, there are reasons for everything, but those reasons fall into "acceptable" and "unacceptable" categories. It is difficult for most humans to accept that not all criminals were victims in a traditional sense, and not all victims are as innocent as they seem. To some extent, we all violate and have been violated. It's human to fuck and equally human to fuck up. To judge others too harshly is about the most hypocritical and pointless thing a human being can do.

A fascinating section of this book focuses on London's relationship with serial killer Gerard John Schaefer before and after he killed. She met him at a high school dance in 1964 and he flirted with her. Her parents approved of him, and they became lovers. They even made love amongst tombstones in an old cemetery (something I recommend you do at least once!) and parted amicably. When the newspapers announced that  her "baby-faced dream" had been arrested and charged with six murders, with twenty-eight possible, she reflected: "Did I lose my virginity to a real lady-killer?"

In every sense, this is an absorbing, insightful, funny, macabre, and confronting book. In addition to London's own essays, the writing by Schaeffer (technically the first killer to be defined as "serial") from his prison cell is extraordinary, as is London's piece on Otis Toole in which she quotes an unnamed serial killer: "You don't understand because you're not a killer. My statements are inconsistent... because the experience is inconsistent. It's like I'm throwing rocks at your window... and you're trying to figure out where the rocks are coming from... and you can't... because they're all different colors. But you see... they're different colors... because they're all coming... from different places."

Twenty years after the book was first published, it's interesting to note that the US murder rate has not consistently risen since its publication. What has risen is the amount of people imprisoned in the US. Private prisons are one of the few growth industries. Good for some, but not so good for most in a country where rights supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution have been eroded by syphilis-brained presidents of both political persuasions.   

If you can find Knockin' On Joe, you'll have a strange and compelling time with it.

The meaning behind the title, which I won't reveal here, is wonderful.

London mentions an upcoming title from Nemesis about Otis Toole. 
Based on interviews the killer did with the publisher, it is titled Devil's Child - The Story of Otis Toole.
I've never come across this book. Has anybody? Was it ever published?


  1. Excellent review/analysis! I read KNOCKIN' ON JOE myself years ago, and was quite impressed. As for NEMESIS, it doesn't appear to have ever been published, and if Sondra London was involved with the writing or editing I have a good idea why: She's largely curtailed her true crime writing since being publicly castigated in 1997 for posting murder confessions on her website--which, you'll find, is now focused on her music career.

    If you haven't already, you should really take a look at the Feral House publication KILLER FICTION, featuring the writings that got G.J. Shaeffer convicted and commentary by London.

  2. Adamrg -- thanks for clearing that question up. A music career now? The mind boggles. She always reminded me, visually, of Sandra Bernard's character in Scorsese's THE KING OF COMEDY.

    I have two copies of KILLER FICTION. One is in a type of ring binder and preceded the more legit version. It's quite a read.

  3. http://bibliosnark.blogspot.com/

    how can i have sex with her?