Dining with a Serial Killer? Murder’s on the Menu.

by | Sep 29, 2023 | Crime Writing | 0 comments

In my last blog post, I intentionally put tables as the story’s focus. Why would an author decide to put tables as the centerpiece of a post about which must be the most unappetizing genre: true crime?

The reason may seem far-fetched at first, but the more I thought about those thirteen years I spent working alongside and writing about the Los Angeles Police Department’s legendary homicide detective, John “Jigsaw” St. John – bearer of the LAPD’s Badge Number One – I found myself amazed at how those brutal, bloodthirsty killers he hunted, arrested and brought to justice in his beloved city often had the same friendly habits and relationships I did.

Bill Bonin, the notorious Freeway Killer, and his four accomplices: Vernon Butts, Greg Miley, James Munro, and Billy Pugh, were convicted of first-degree murder of twenty-two young men on a spree that lasted just over two years. Bonin confessed to at least two more murders.

I asked St. John how a killer as ruthless, vicious, and bloodthirsty as Bill Bonin could go roller skating with his girlfriend on Saturday nights, hold down a job with a trucking company, and have a normal social life like so many young men who hang out with friends, drink beer, play cards and bullshit with friends like my teenage boys – minus the pot, beer and porno flicks.   

Reading Bonin’s diary entries about his tennis matches with inmates while imprisoned for sexual assault astounded me. He wrote the scores of his matches and commentary in handwriting so scribbled I had to use a magnifying glass to read it (6-4, 6-3, 2-6), but his passion for tennis wasn’t much different from mine. He wanted to win the match as much as I do.

I told St. John, “If I ever have the opportunity to get into a tennis match with Bill Bonin, he’d probably beat the socks off me. Especially if he knew I was writing a book with the detective who hunted, arrested, and helped convict him.”

St. John chuckled at my idea of a dream matchup with Bill Bonin at the prison tennis court.  

“I’m no psychologist, Jane,” he said. “But I’ve seen it time and time again. Bonin held down a job with Dependable Driveway as a truck driver making deliveries throughout the LA area. Patrick Kearney, the Trash Bag killer, was an engineer for Hughes aircraft but murdered twenty-five young men. His MO was unlike any killer I’d investigated before.”

I braced myself for the story of serial sadistic killer, Patrick Kearney.

“First, he’d shoot them, usually in the temple of their head, with a Derringer .22 pistol,” St. John said. “Then he’d carry the body to the bathtub, sexually assault it, skin, and dismember it. Then he’d dispose of remains in canyons and landfills.”

I couldn’t begin to imagine the scene. “How could this monster – intelligent and employable enough to be an engineer for an aircraft company – kill these kids like he did?”

“Want to hear the most remarkable story of Patrick Kearney?” I wasn’t so sure.

“He sent me a Christmas card for years ending it with a friendly comment or two.”

“I play tennis, have held responsible jobs, and have sent Christmas cards too. How can a person as evil and terrifying as Dracula be a normal human too?” I had no answer.