Home, Interrupted

Author describes how unlocked doors invite monsters inside.

Posted Jan 24, 2018

K. Sullivan
Source: K. Sullivan

I once read a book that opened with this line: “There is only one horror story and it begins: A monster came into the house.” You have only to watch a horror marathon to realize how often this is true. Home is the place where we generally feel safe—but then someone leaves a door or window unlocked. 

This is the theme that links the cases in true crime writer Kevin Sullivan’s latest book, Through an Unlocked Door, in Walks Murder. Sullivan has published three books on Ted Bundy, among others, and now he has collected a variety of narratives that should make anyone think twice before leaving their doors unlocked. Night or day, intruders who find easy entre take advantage.

Sullivan opens with Alec Creider, a 16-year-old who just wanted to kill someone so he went over to his best friend’s house and slaughtered the family. That’s a double whammy: betrayal and home invasion. It’s chilling.

More often, these tales involve stranger intrusions, and in some cases, the killer looked specifically for an open window or unlocked door. Among the most harrowing are “Vampire Killer” Richard Trenton Chase, “Gainesville Ripper” Danny Rolling, pedophile Richard Allen Davis, and “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez. These killers didn’t just enter a residence to kill but they also subjected victims to cruelty, abuse, and mutilation.

You might think, “that would not happen to me,” but in truth, if you leave your door unlocked, you’re vulnerable to the whims of random selection. And while you’re reading this collection, lock your door! Even if you’re used to true crime, immersing in these home invasion tales could give you nightmares!

One chapter features a family in Connecticut who endured a seemingly unending ordeal in 2007. Newsweek even ran a story about it to illustrate "the illusion of safety.” Theirs was a nice home in a quiet, affluent neighborhood and it drew the attention of burglars Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky. They cased it and entered around 3 a.m.

Dr. William Petit was asleep in the sunroom. They beat him with a baseball bat and tied him to a pipe in the basement before they found his wife and two daughters, 11 and 17, upstairs. Once everyone was bound, the men looked for valuables but failed to find much. Hayes forced Jennifer Hawke-Petit, the mother, to go with him to her bank to withdraw $15,000. She covertly alerted a teller, who called the police.

Back at the house, Komisarjevsky had subjected the youngest daughter to sexual assault and insisted that Hayes rape the mother. He did so before he manually strangled her. In the meantime, Dr. Petit had escaped getting help. A slow police response gave the killers time to spread accelerant and ignite it. Both girls died from smoke inhalation. The bungling burglars were caught but the damage was done.

I understand why some people leave doors unlocked. I grew up with the sense that our door was always open. Our neighbors were the same. Not locking doors seemed to affirm a safe neighborhood. I’m sure many families share this optimism. And predators exploit it. (In fact, a serial killer did roam my town, not to mention escapees from a psychiatric institution just a few miles down our road.)

Besides being an unnecessary risk to our safety, unlocked doors also make it difficult for investigators to solve crimes. Often, they look for a sign of a break-in. Not finding one, they narrow the pool of suspects to people known to the victim, as if the victim willingly let them in. However, unlocked doors allow access to strangers as well as friends and acquaintances, and police might not know which leads to follow.

Sullivan’s collection is stark and disturbing. I write a lot of true crime tales myself and many times, like him, I discover that simple precautions could have thwarted a tragedy. This makes it doubly tragic.

So, instead of reading horror fiction to get your chill on, try this book. It serves the same purpose but might also inspire you to be careful. Immersing in one shocking tale after another of monsters entering someone’s safe space should make anyone think twice about unsecured entry points.

Sullivan correctly notes that a locked door won’t necessarily save you, but in some cases, it does deter. Safety lies not in false optimism; it lies in reasonable precautions at a time when increasingly more predators seek to invade our lives and our homes. We should at least make it difficult.


Sullivan, K. (2018). Through an unlocked door, In walks murder. Exposit Books.