Do you guys want to hear a spooky story?
OK. Good. Because I'm going to tell you one.
I grew up in the tony suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio. (I know. This story is freaking you out already. The 1%! Occupy Elm Street!) My hardworking, middle class single mom paid sky high property taxes for the privilege of sending me to a high school with a swimming pool, a planetarium and courses like "Intro to Business" and independent studies in jewelry-making.
One of the "cool classes" that everybody wanted to take was Criminology, which was only offered to seniors and necessitated a signed form of consent from a parent. This, ostensibly, was because of the disturbing nature of the course material, but mostly so we could watch a lot of really violent TV movies in class without anybody calling to complain.
Criminology was taught by one Buddy Longo, a figure of legend around the halls of SHHS. I have no idea how Buddy was qualified to teach the class, other than the fact that he knew a lot of cops and had a friend who was supposedly some kind of former spy, who came in one day to show us the Zapruder film ("Look how his head comes off! Like the lid of a cookie jar.")
Buddy was also the baseball coach and was rumored to have gotten in deep shit for taking his infield to Hooters after an away game. In short: Buddy was awesome.
The class was divided into units. There was Terrorism (I vividly remember Buddy's poster featuring Public Enemy #1 at the time, one "Usama Bin-Laden," wanted at that point for his activity in connection with the EIJ), Cults (which memorably involved watching a TV movie about the Waco incident, starring "Wings"'s Tim Daly as David Koresh), and Prison (reciting the line from "Scared Straight" where the prisoner says it's easier to "eat ass" if you use maple syrup is like a secret Shaker-Heights-grad handshake). But best of all was Serial Killers.
Buddy LOVED serial killers, and would enrapture us with stories about Edmund Kemper eating his mother's larynx like he was reading "Make Way for Ducklings" to preschoolers.
We learned about the "sociopathic triad" psychiatrists use to single out the homicidal (bedwetting, pyromania, cruelty to children or animals), and to analyze handwriting and blood spatters like grizzled FBI profilers. We each became briefly convinced of our own psychopathy ("MY writing turns slightly up at the end of the page!") and the psychopathy of others.
If you are a gawky high school student and you see enough pictures of gawky high school students who later ended up stacked in the crawl space of some guy in a clown suit, you start to act funny. We checked our back seats and under our cars, avoided people with broken arms, and called each other "just to talk" during routine tasks like getting laundry out of the basement.
We covered them all: Dahmer, Bundy, Wuornos, Williams, Gein. But above them all, Buddy dearly loved Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker.
The Night Stalker was not only prolific, but he had no MO. He murdered men, women and children of all ages and races. He shot, he stabbed, he bludgeoned. While some of the murders were sexual in nature, Ramirez also just killed because he was bored. Thanks to the massive 1984 heatwave in Southern California, he could just crawl into any open window he wanted. Homeboy was crazy! But also, he was kind of cute.
Which is why I chose him when Buddy told us that getting a serial killer to write us back would constitute an automatic "A" on the final exam.
Most of us balked, but because I was both a terrible student and one who fancied herself fashionably dark, I asked Buddy where the best place to write the Night Stalker might be. Buddy told me not to get my hopes up (Ramirez didn't write back) but to try San Quentin, where he resided on death row in a cell the size of a Limited Too dressing room.
I left class my customary five minutes early to read the morning announcements over the school PA (I had a bit of a Max Fischer thing going on) and then headed to Honors Ancient Greek, already composing my letter.
There, in my notebook, I wrote this where I should have been declining the word for "barter":
Dear Mr. Ramirez,
I'm a high school girl and I find you fascinating.
We learned all about you in class and watched BOTH of your TV movies. I liked your leather jacket and aviator sunglasses!
I'm interested to know how you managed to avoid the police for so long. What is prison like? Do you ever get lonely? What do you like to do for fun?
Like my super-awesome fake name? I do, almost as much as my "What do you like to do for fun"? You know, now that you can't dismember people anymore.
Then, it was time for my master stroke: I spritzed the whole thing with the little tube of Chanel Number 5 I kept in my bag. (We weren't allowed to shower after gym.)
I borrowed a stamp and an envelope from my guidance counselor (applying for an internship, obviously) and dropped the whole thing in a wire outgoing mail tray, return address, "Care of Buddy Longo, Shaker Heights High School."
Guys? He wrote back.
Three weeks are pretty much a decade in teenager years, so I'd forgotten all about the mash note I'd casually written to a guy who liked to draw pentagrams in human blood. I had the PA mic in my hand and was announcing the Students of the Day when Buddy came rushing in to the PA booth. Wild eyed, he handed me the letter, which I started to open.
"Not here!" shouted Buddy, who knew the importance of a little theater even when he was tweaking the hell out. "In CLASS."
The ominously crisp envelope was covered in State Penetentiary stamps, and had one of those customized return labels that are always advertised in PARADE magazine: RICHARD RAMIREZ, with a little colophon of a screw.
Hands a-tremble, I opened it in front of my rapt classmates, repulsed but eager to hear the words of a man whose handsome actor stand-in they'd seen hand-murder an old Asian couple in a highly effective ABC dramatization only weeks before.
The Night Stalker, on floral stationery, had written that he doesn't often answer letters. (The Night Stalker: very busy apparently.) Additionally, he really enjoyed "magazines." Why didn't I tell him what kind of music I liked, and please, would I include a picture in my next letter?
He signed it "Rick," with a heart.
While the whole thing was kind of cool -- I got my "A" and the kind of high-school celebrity that usually necessitates one of those "frozen hot dog" rumors -- I couldn't help feeling a lingering sense of dread. This guy, though securely locked up and slated for execution, had done a lot of nasty things to a lot of innocent people. I didn't know whether I really believed that human beings could be innately, purely evil, but I was touching something that had touched somebody who was the probably the closest thing to it.
It was thrilling in a way, like the time Samuel L. Jackson sent me a signed headshot. But Samuel L. Jackson had only ever FAKE murdered people (to my knowledge). This was bad juju.
Buddy asked if he could keep it ("For the Handwriting unit") and I let him.
The coda to this story is that, after relating it enough times that it became kind of a signature party gag in college, my friend and fellow crime nerd Tanner got jealous and decided that he, too, wanted a cool serial killer story. He did me one better; he and the Night Stalker are now on a first name basis.
Tanner gets him little presents like "Star Wars" stamps (he's a huge fan of the movies -- being evil, I'm guessing he's REALLY into the prequels), and in turn, he sends Tanner creepy drawings and funny stories about fellow inmate Scott Peterson, who apparently "nobody likes."
I still occasionally get the willies when I think about it, but I'm probably the only kid in history to get a GPA boost from a horny murderer. I feel doubly weird now, because I found out that he actually married a woman during his incarceration. She's a freelance writer and she's batshit insane.
So much for no MO.