Showing posts with label torture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label torture. Show all posts

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.

15 August 2013

Crime and Punishment, Old Style

by Eve Fisher

Whenever people wax nostalgic around me - always a big mistake - I bring up premodern dentistry, medicine, plumbing, pest control, and law enforcement.  Let's not tackle the horrors of the first four, but stick to law and order.  There wasn't a lot of it.  For one thing, of course, there weren't any police per se, before our own Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie became the first Lieutenant General of Police in Paris in 1667.  (The London bobbies were established in 1829.)  This didn't mean that there was a whole police force in Paris:  there were some "police chiefs", constables, archers, and men of the watch, but the main staff was an intricate web of informers who would cheerfully tell anything they heard for money.

M. de la Reynie
God help you if the informers turned you in.  As I mentioned in the last blog post, standard investigative practice until at least the 19th century was to question prisoners under torture.  (In ancient Rome, a slave's testimony was admissible only if it had been extracted by torture, because it was believed that they wouldn't tell the truth otherwise.)  The only exceptions were if you were a member of the nobility or the royal family, in which case...  maybe not.  The other exception was England, which abolished the use of torture in 1640, except for the use of "peine forte et dure", i.e., pressing, for those who refused to answer guilty or not guilty in an attempt to hang on to their estate for their kids.  (They used this during the Salem witch trials.)

Anyway, back in Renaissance and Enlightenment France (say, the 1500 through very late 1700's), most judicial proceedings were presided over by either your seigneur (lord) if you were a peasant, or a judge/panel of judges (if it was a question of a felony), or a chambre ardent (if you were suspected of witchcraft), or the King, if you were sufficiently noble.  Punishments varied:
The Bastille
  1. Banishment, exile, monasteries/convents for the wealthy and the nobility.  (It helped if you could flee the country - like Olympe de Soissons - before they came after you.)
  2. Imprisonment in the Bastille or another old castle with damp, insufficiently lit cellars for the wealthy or too offending nobility (just a reminder:  a noble family could ask the king for a lettre de cachet, which would imprison the recalcitrant relative for life).  Also, the occasional political prisoner - Voltaire was sent to the Bastille three times, twice for his incendiary writings and the last time because he challenged the Chevalier de Rohan to a duel.  Voltaire was a peasant, Rohan was a nobleman, a lettre de cachet was given, and I for one am amazed that he ever got out. 
  3. Burning for witches.
  4. Flogging, branding, more torture and/or hanging for the lower classes.
  5. The galleys (for all classes).
Numbers 3 and 4 were done publicly, and drew big crowds because they were considered entertainment.  A certain Dr. Patin wrote to the father of his pupil that the boy had been doing so well that tomorrow he was taking him - as a treat - to see a man broken on the wheel.  (W. H. Lewis, The Splendid Century, p. 175)  And let us never forget Casanova's account of watching two people having sex while they watched the four hour execution by torture of Damiens, would-be assassin of Louis XV. 

And then there were the galleys.  Today there is a growing issue with privatized prisons (I hope), in which prisons are run for profit and the prisoners are turned into slave labor ($0.25/hour is the norm; $3.25/hour is considered good wages), which could lead to the question:  are people being arrested and convicted because they are really guilty, or because the prison needs to be full?  (After all, standard private prison contracts require a certain level of occupancy, no matter what the actual crime rate is, so even if crime goes down, people still need to be arrested...)   Back in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the question was whether people were condemned to the galleys because they were guilty or because more oarsmen were needed to man the fighting ships of the Mediterranean.  Louis XIV ordered the courts to sentence men to the galleys as often as possible, and, instead of the death penalty, send them to the galleys for life.  And so it was done. 

File:The réale returning to port.jpg
The Reale - a galley ship of Louis XIV
As you can see from above, galleys were open boats, that could use sail or oar for the best maneuverability possible.  The reason that they were manned exclusively by convicts was because they'd tried using paid free men in the 14th century, but the paid workers just couldn't get up the speed and endurance.  It took constant application of the whip - and other tortures - to get the men rowing for their lives.  (By the way the Ottoman Turks and the Barbary pirates both used galley slaves, usually captured Europeans.) 

The galley slaves - galériens - were made up of Turks (who really WERE slaves, bought by the French government from the Barbary pirates and other sources), military deserters, salt smugglers, plain criminals (including nobility - the Chevalier de Margaillet, for example, was sent there for raping his niece, who by the way, must have had connections of her own to get a conviction), and Huguenots (i.e., Protestants, which was illegal in 17th and 18th century France).

Galley slaves had nothing.  They were branded GAL for galérien.  Their heads were shaved for lice, and they were given only canvas drawers and a red hat.  They lived in the open because there was literally nowhere else for them to go.  They lived on biscuit and bean soup - and, being France, when they were at sea were given a cup and a half of wine day.  They slept and ate and defecated where they sat (although I suppose if they were the oarsman closest to the side of the boat, they went over the side).  They never washed.  Five men chained to an 18-foot oar, pulling it with all their might - for life.  A Huguenot galérien said that "One would not think it was possible to keep it up for half an hour, and yet [thanks to the whip] I have rowed full out for twenty-four hours without pausing for a single moment."  (Lewis, p. 220)  Such appalling labor only happened during a heated battle - and during a battle anyone who died, or even fainted, was cut loose and flung overboard. 

19th century Marseille
In between battles, things weren't so bad.  In Marseilles or other ports, they got better food, fresh from town.  And in the autumn and winter, when there were no battles, while the galley slaves remained on the boat, life was better.  The officers were billeted ashore, so the slaves had room to spread out.  They were required to practice a trade during the winter months - anything and everything from music to repairing clocks to (for the absolute incompetents) knitting stockings.  (In other words, they had to pay for their own incarceration during the winter.)  And each galley was allowed one week ashore in rotation, when they could wander the port town with their skills and goods, selling, and stealing everything in sight.  Which they got away with.  Because here's the one advantage of being a galérien:  once sentenced, since it was (usually) for life, the French judicial system washed its hands of you.  You could do anything, and you would not be tried again.  Granted, your captain could flog you, mutilate you, kill you - but the courts could and would do nothing more.  No wonder Marseilles had a reputation for being rough:  port life during the centuries of galériens was incredibly dangerous for civilians.  The galleys finally came to an end in the mid-1700's, but the term galérien remained the standard term for a prisoner until well after the French Revolution.  (For one thing, after the end of the galleys as a fighting part of the French navy, convicts were still kept in chains on galleys moored in the harbor of Toulon and other port cities.)

The wheel and the stake, beheadings and burnings were all much more public, but the the two secret hells, the fates worse than death, were the lettre de cachet and sentencing to the galleys.  Either way, you got to live - for a while - but probably spent that life wondering why.  Some great literature has been written around hell, though, and its aftermath:   "The Count of Monte Cristo", "Les Miserables", "A Tale of Two Cities", all tales of escape, all tales of new life - but the Count, Jean Valjean, Dr. Manette are all marked, changed  forever.  But perhaps the book closest to the spirit of the galleys and the dungeons is Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" - where one sentence only leads to another, and when he counts the days of his sentence, he has to add extras for the leap years...