Most films about fictional serial killers follow a formula, but among the more intriguing films (to me) is Kalifornia
(1993). It’s about a journalist who drives cross-country with his girlfriend, a photographer, to document famous crime scenes. To assist with travel expenses, they invite another couple looking for a ride. You can guess what dangers the other couple brings.
Somewhere I heard that the “Kali” part of the title refers to the Indian goddess who demanded blood sacrifices. True or not, it fits well with the idea of visiting places where gruesome things occurred.
At times, the locations offer psychological symbolism, so as a psycho-journalist (rather than a photojournalist), I’ll be commenting on this.
In any event, I’ve often wondered how I would plot out such a cross-country trip. I’d have to think about where to start and where to finish. A few weeks ago I put the question out to my Facebook friends and received mostly the typical locations – high-profile crimes like the Lizzie Borden and Amityville houses.
However, I like to go off the beaten path a bit as well.
There are many more places to visit than I can fit into one blog, so I’ll write about them in parts. This is Part I, starting on the East Coast. I welcome suggestions if I miss anything as I move along.
I’d begin with Boston, for the 1960s Boston Strangler series attributed to Albert DeSalvo (although he was never tried for them) and the recent Boston Marathon bombing. I’d also check out where Jesse Pomeroy had lived during the 1870s, since at 14, he remains one of our country’s youngest serial killers.
Also, in 1850 was the famous trial of John Webster for the murder and dismemberment of a prominent citizen, George Parkman, in the Massachusetts Medical College Building on North Grove Street. Forensic anthropologists and dentists both testified, and I included this incident in my history of forensic science, Beating the Devil’s Game. Of course, I’d have to see the locations.
Then, it’s on to Fall River, MA. I’ve stayed in the Lizzie Borden house, so I already have a good start to my journey.
On August 4, 1892, the bodies of Andrew Borden, 70, and Abby Borden, 65, were discovered in their home in Fall River. Andrew's corpse lay on the living room couch, his face cut by eleven sharp blows. Abby lay in the guestroom, with numerous sharp-bladed blows to her back and head.
Andrew’s grown daughter, Lizzie, found him. She was 32, single, and living at home. She was arrested and tried but acquitted.
Back in the 1990s, I’d heard that this infamous home at 92 Second Street had opened as a Bed & Breakfast, made to resemble its condition on that fatal August morning. I’d read the investigation reports and trial records, and I’d discovered things overlooked. For example, a bucket of bloody rags in the basement was never fully examined. Bridgett, the maid, said it hadn't been there the day before. Yet, Lizzie, who claimed it was from her menstrual cycle, said the bucket had been in that place for several days.
Right here, I knew, could be the very evidence that Lizzie had done the deed, wiped herself off with rags, and stashed the bucket in the basement before she called Bridgett down from her room.
The house is quite small, which made me instantly doubt that a maniacal stranger could have hidden inside for an hour and a half, undetected, between the murders of Abby and Andrew. Clearly, it was an inside job. Lizzie had resented living in such a frugal home when the family could have moved to the wealthier area on the hill (psychological superiority). That’s where she moved once she had her father’s money.
Also in New England, Connecticut’s infamous “Ivy League Serial Killer,” Michael Ross, got his start on the Cornell campus. In July 1987, Ross went on trial from the murders of Deborah Taylor and Tammy Williams. He pled guilty and received a sentence of 120 years. Separately, he was found guilty in four other murders and received two life sentences and six death sentences.
Although the state was reluctant to apply the extreme sentence, Ross insisted. He dropped his appeals and finally got his wishes. On May 13, 2005, when he was 45 years old, Michael Ross was executed at the Osborn Correctional Institution.
While In Ithaca, I'd visit Rulloff's Restaurant at 411 College Avenue, named for murderer Edward Rulloff, because I'd hope to see his brain displayed at Cornell. Supposedly, it is the largest on record.
I might also add the Genesee River Gorge outside Rochester, New York, for the string of 1988-89 prostitute murders by Arthur Shawcross.
Of course, I’d go to Amityville, New York, where on November 13, 1974, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr. used a Marlin rifle to murder his entire family in their beds. He cleaned up the crime scene, waited a day, and called the police to report that the Mafia had slaughtered his family.
Then his story changed, and it was not long before he became the primary suspect. Eventually he said he’d behaved in self-defense during a violent family argument. Ultimately he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
The house, with its creepy eye-like windows, was sold and it ended up as the setting for The Amityville Horror, a book and movie based on the idea that the house had been built on a Native American burial ground (or a place where the Shinnecocks kept their insane), and the restless spirits caused anyone who lived there to become psychotically violent.
And that's a lot for the first part. New York City lies ahead.