Some years ago, when I was a newspaper reporter near Joliet, IL, I had the chance to chat with a man who was on trial for killing his wife. And not just killing her. He strangled her, then put a sheet on the kitchen floor, got out the power tools, and chopped her into six pieces. He doubled bagged the pieces in garbage bags, and dumped them in his trash can. The next day when the trash collectors came, they smelled the decay, and through a rip in the bag, saw an arm. The police were called, and the man was arrested.
This fascinated me. Why, I asked him, didn’t you just dump her body on the side of the road, and claim that she had never come home that night?
The man told me that his two-year-old son was asleep upstairs and he didn’t want leave him alone in the house, so he had to get rid of the child’s mother without leaving. He told me this with pride, because even though he was a bad husband (obviously) he wanted to make the point that he was a good father.
Another killer I interviewed years later, this time as a TV producer for a true crime show, had bludgeoned his business partner with a hammer, and was serving 60 years. The man was 62 at the time of his conviction so even with parole at the half way mark, it was a life sentence. This guy spent much of the interview telling me about his years helping the community.
Both men were convinced they were good guys. They weren’t, I don’t believe, trying to fool me, and if they were, they were doing a piss poor job of it. They were, maybe, trying to fool themselves. They had little in common but a life sentence, but they were both sure, aside from the murders, they were decent folk.
Killer fascinate me. And I’ve been lucky to have met more than a handful so I’ve been able to study them up close. The problem is they’re a little disappointing. Some are smart, some are stupid, many are arrogant, but gang members or church goers — killers are surprisingly normal, even pleasant. Something that frequently gives me the chills.
When I created the character of Kate Conway, I made her a television producer because I wanted her, and my readers, to have access to the kinds of people I’ve met over the years — CEO’s, athletes, cops, and especially, killers. I wanted Kate, a fairly nice, mostly law-abiding Chicagoan (albeit a woman who must lie and manipulate to get stories for television shows) to sit across from the good father and the friendly neighbor. I wanted to let the killers talk for themselves, to justify their actions, to focus on their good points — just as they do in real life. I think she (and my readers) will find them just as ordinary, and as chilling, as I do.
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