04 August 2016

Why I Hate Serial Killers

by Eve Fisher

I don't like serial killers.  I know, you're thinking, who does?  Well, a hell of a lot of people, apparently.  Not only do they like stories / movies / TV shows about serial killers, they even like them when the serial killer is the hero.  I don't.  One of my few lines in the sand (along with torture porn and child porn) is this:  if the serial killer is the hero, I won't watch it or support it with my dollars.  I don't want people to think it's "okay", or "justifiable", or "entertaining", because, to me it isn't.  For a number of reasons.  Among them is the fact that I've seen a serial killer and all his fall-out at close hand, and it's probably the most horrific thing I can imagine.

Here in South Dakota, back in the 1990's, Robert Leroy Anderson was tried and convicted for kidnapping, raping, torturing, and killing two women.  I was Circuit Administrator at the time, and he was tried in my circuit.  Twice.

Though no one knew it at the time, it all began when Larisa Dumansky disappeared on August 27, 1994, after working the night shift at John Morrell & Co. meat packing plant in Sioux Falls, SD.  As so often happens, her husband, Bill, was briefly under suspicion, perhaps of an argument, perhaps of more.  The idea was also floated that she might have taken off.  The Dumanskys were both Ukrainian immigrants - maybe she'd gone home? Maybe she'd only come with him to get American citizenship? Maybe...  But her husband denied all of it, and said she'd never have run off, they were perfectly happy, and even more so, because she was pregnant.  But nothing was heard of her for years.

On July 29, 1996, Piper Streyle was getting her children (2 year old son, 3 year old daughter) ready to go to their daycare center.  They lived in Canistota, and she worked at Southeastern Children's Center in Sioux Falls. Her husband Vance, had already gone to work. Piper never made it to work; the children never made it to daycare.  Instead, one of Piper's co-workers called that afternoon, and was stunned when the daughter answered, weeping, saying that she and her little brother were alone in the house and that her parents were dead.

The daycare worker got on the phone to Vance and the Sheriff.  They found the children alone in a trashed living room, with Piper's purse emptied on the floor.  The sheriff asked what had happened, and the daughter told him, "Mommy's going to die."  A"mean man" had come into the trailer, argued with their mother, and taken her away at gunpoint.  Vance Streyle remembered a balding man, in his twenties, named Rob Anderson who'd come to their trailer 3 days before, at 7:30 a.m., to ask about enrolling his kids in the Streyle's bible camp for children.  Piper told Anderson the camp was over for the year, but to sign up for next year.  Anderson left his name and telephone number.

Robert Leroy Anderson was 26 years old, and had already been married twice, with 4 children.  He was a maintenance man at John Morrell & Co. meat packing plant.  Witnesses remembered seeing his truck parked up the way from Streyle's on the 26th and the 29th.

The police searched his truck, and found (among other things) receipts for duct tape, and a wooden platform with holes drilled into it with Piper's hairs on it, a dirty shovel, furniture moving straps, weeds, a toolbox and other evidence.  At his home, the police found a pain of jeans stained with blood and semen.  Also, handcuff keys.

Two days later, the little daughter ID'd Anderson's photo as the man who took her mother. He was arrested on two counts of kidnapping, but not murder, because there was no body. In fact, they never found a body, despite a massive search that went on for days all around the Big Sioux River.  They eventually found half of her shirt; later a farmer picked up the other half on the side of the road.  They also found a roll of duct tape with human hairs attached to it that matched Piper's DNA, as well as rope and chains, eyebolts, a vibrator and a half- burned candle.

In May 1997, Anderson was tried and found guilty of kidnapping Piper, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the South Dakota State Penitentiary.

Well, after that, a buddy of Anderson, Jamie Hammer, said that Anderson had been obsessed with torturing and murdering women ever since high school.  Hammer was kind of into it himself.  They used to sit around and plan the perfect crime.  In 1994 they tried it.  They got "wheel poppers" and put them on the road and were almost successful, except the poor woman whose wheel got flatted managed to break free.  She was one of those who testified against Anderson.

There was another friend who was in on that attempted kidnapping:  Glen Walker.  In 1997, after Anderson's conviction of kidnapping Piper Streyle, Walker confessed to participating in the kidnapping (at knifepoint) of Larisa Dumansky, as she left work on August 26th, 1994.  The two men drove her out to Lake Vermillion, where Anderson raped, tortured, and killed her.  (If you want the details, look them up yourself - they are horrific.)  Walker always claimed that he just watched.  That was how he knew that she pleaded desperately for her life (remember, she was pregnant).

Walker was the one who showed them where Larisa was buried, under a chokecherry bush.  Only part of her skeleton was still there, but they found enough to identify her.

Meanwhile, Anderson was in prison, and his one-time cellmate, Jeremy Brunner, contacted the attorney general's office in August 1997. He told them that Anderson bragged in great detail about the murders of Piper Streyle and Larisa Dumansky.  That Anderson admitted he was a serial killer; that he kept souvenirs or trophies of his victims at his grandmother's house. That he had moved Larisa's skull to prevent them from IDing the body.  And he asked Brunner to kill Walker, his old friend, because he knew Walker would turn him in.  Anderson drew up maps for him, and told him where he had a gun stashed - again, in his grandmother's house.

The police searched his grandmother's house and found jewelry belonging to Piper Streyle and Larisa Dumansky, as well as Anderson's gun, all exactly where Brunner had said they would be.

September 4, 1997, Anderson was finally charged with murdering Larisa Dumansky, and with the rape and murder of Piper Streyle (remember, he'd just been convicted of kidnapping her before).  The trial began in March, 1999, and he was convicted on April 6th on all counts.  Three days later, he was sentenced to death.  Walker was tried in March, 2000 and pled guilty to attempted kidnapping, and accessory to kidnapping and first-degree murder and conspiracy to kidnap Larisa Dumansky.  He received a total of 30 consecutive years.  He just got out on parole this year... (believe me, I feel your horror.)

Anderson appealed his death sentence in 2002 - which here in South Dakota was a non-starter - but on March 30th, he was found dead by hanging. The interesting part of this was that he was in a segregation cell, not his death-row cell, because he'd been found in possession of a razor blade. (There's been some unofficial debate about that...)

Reactions were universally, grimly positive:
Robert Leroy Anderson
Prosecutor:  "There's a lot of women who will sleep better knowing that this guy is deceased."
Vance Streyle:  "This is what we were after anyway. It just saved some time and effort."

I remember going to the last day of Anderson's trial - Anderson sat like a big fat white slug and smirked through the whole thing.

Did I mention that, back at Morrell's, a lot of coworkers admitted that they'd heard Anderson talk about kidnapping, raping, torturing, killing women, but couldn't believe that he meant it?  That he was serious?  So they never said a word to anyone, because they didn't want to look ridiculous...  Two women dead, another woman terrorized, and hints, rumors, of other women who might have disappeared, back where he used to live...

As I used to tell my classes, if anyone starts talking about how much fun it would be to do the things that Robert Leroy Anderson did, the hell with ridicule, I'm going to turn them in.

A serial killer as the hero?  Not in my fictional universe.  Not now, not ever.

11 comments:

David Dean said...

I'm with you, Eve, one hundred percent. Excellent blog, by the way.

Eve Fisher said...

Thanks David. He was a nasty piece of work all the way around.

janice law said...

A good piece and like all of yours, thoughtful. I suspect the craze for serial killers is part of the general ramping up of modern fiction. It's not enough to save a life or even a city- we're saving the world, etc. The serial killer also allows the detective writer to concentrate on the crime, avoiding the painful aftermaths.

I'm curious about what a circuit administrator does in S. Dakota; we don't have anything equivalent I don't think in CT.

Jerry Sweeney said...

For what it's worth, a cousin lived on the same block in Wichita, Kansas as Dennis Rader, the infamous BTK serial murderer currently serving 10 life sentences in the Kansas State Penitentiary. I asked him what that was like. He responded that he didn't live near BTK, he lived up the street from Dennis. Dennis was rather unfriendly, especially when neighbor kids invaded his yard, but other than that he was unexceptional.

Elizabeth said...

Yesterday I was reading a very good guest blog post by Will Jordan at http://wwwshotsmagcouk.blogspot.com/2016/08/when-good-guys-go-bad-why-everyone.html He said one of the secrets to making villainous characters believable is realizing that every villain believes himself to be the good guy.

In my lifetime I've known three people who killed someone. One was a woman who killed two people, about ten years apart, for completely different motivations. I'm not sure this meets the definition of a serial killer. She & I used to be friends; the reason we're not friends now has nothing to do with her killing anyone. During the time I knew her I got enough of a window into her psyche to see that she absolutely believed she was blameless. Possibly she was half right. Who knows?

Eve Fisher said...

Elizabeth thanks for sharing that link - it's a great post. I agree that every villain thinks he's the good guy. What chilled my bone marrow was the story at the end:

"A few years ago, a CIA field officer debriefing a captured al-Qaeda fighter, asked him why he did what he did – why he’d kidnap, torture and execute innocent civilians, help blow up crowded markets and sacrifice untold lives. His answer was as simple as it was striking - American movies. Independence Day. Star Wars. Even The Hunger Games. Whatever their setting and specific detail, they all depict a small, plucky band of resistance fighters taking on a massive, superiorly armed invader, and winning out through bravery and sacrifice. As far as he and his comrades were concerned, they were those brave fighters, and America was the evil empire to be resisted by any means necessary. That was all it took to justify everything they had done, to make it right in their minds. It was simply a matter of perspective."

It's why the militia guy told me, after McVeigh blew up the Murrough Building, and responding to my outcry against the daycare deaths, that "there were no innocent victims. War has been declared."

B.K. Stevens said...

Our family lived in Sioux Falls from 1991 to 2002. I remember reading about those cases, and seeing pictures of Anderson's smirking face. Your post brought back memories.

I agree with you about serial killers--in books, movies, everything else. I saw Silence of the Lambs when it came out, and I wish I hadn't. I don't care how good the acting was. I just wish I could forget some of the images that still bother me after all these years.

Art Taylor said...

What a horrific story, Eve. I hadn't heard about this story, but found it chilling--not just the actions of the killer and his accomplice but also those co-workers who dismissed it all as not serious. I was reminded of the story of the Pied Piper of Tucson--which was also troubling because of the reactions (or lack of) from the teen community who knew and protected (intentionally or not, through their silence) the killer in their midst.

(I teach that story occasionally in my classes at Mason, along with the Joyce Carol Oates story it inspired: "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" But that's another post....)

Leigh Lundin said...

Fascinating account, Eve.

I can't see glorifying serial killers or mass murders. A romance series author has her main character in love with an assassin. She thinks he's sensitive and misunderstood. Damn, lady, he KILLS people!

Eve Fisher said...

BK, it WAS a horrible time, wasn't it.
Art, in a strange way, it takes a village to create a nurturing place both for good AND evil.
Leigh - I agree. It's like all the people who write to and even marry convicted killers. What are they thinking?

Melodie Campbell said...

To be honest, I find serial killer books boring. And a cop out by writers, in that they can do away with the usual need for believable motivation (yes, I know serial killers have a pattern to their killings. What I mean is, the guy (or gal) does what he does because he is a psychopath/insane.)
These books don't give me the satisfaction of clever plotting.
(I don't expect everyone to agree with me, but it would be interesting to see if other readers/authors here do.)