Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Culture of Violence: When Killing is Normal and Serial Killing is Entertainment.

It is Saturday night, party time for college students in an old three-decker a few blocks from Becker College in Worcester, Mass. The music is loud. The beer is flowing. As the party winds down, four young men show up uninvited, all non-Becker students. They are asked to leave. An argument breaks out. And then a fight.

The fight spills out onto the street. Within minutes, 19-year-old William L. Smith, a transfer Becker student from Scotland, Maryland, who is looking forward to his courses in sports management and going out for basketball, falls to the ground after a single knife thrust to his heart. He is rushed to UMass Memorial Medical Center where he is pronounced dead around 2:45 A.M.

Police recover the knife used in the slaying. A few day's later, a 19-year-old Worcester resident, Andre J. Thompson, is arrested in connection with the killing. He is held in $75,000 cash bail. The investigation continues as this is being written.

More than 150 Becker Students, many of them in tears, hold an impromptu Sunday evening candlelight vigil in honor of their well-liked fellow student, William L. Smith. Even though he had been on campus a short time, "Will" had made many friends.

Aimee Giza, an English professor at Becker had Smith in her class. "Everyone loved him," she told a reporter. "He seemed to be friends with everyone. I never heard a bad word about him."

In his hometown of Scotland, Maryland, he is mourned by 1,500 at memorial services attended by Becker College officials and a busload of Becker students. Family and friends remember their Will as a "nice kid" who "gets along with everyone" and who was an all-star high school athlete in baseball, basketball, and football. Will is an in-shape, six-foot one inch, 175-pounder when he is buried in his hometown.

About the same time that Will Smith is laid to rest, Worcester police investigators announce that a "person of interest" in the slaying of six women in the city's "Main South Woodsman Case" has been formally charged with the rape and murder of one of them, Theresa Stone. All the women worked as prostitutes in the Main South area of Worcester.

The five women ranged in age from 29 to 40 and had a total of 22 children. All were poor. All led struggling, fragile lives. Theresa Stone was discovered on a Fitchburg, Mass road in October 1996. She had been raped and strangled. Two, Betzaida Montalvo and Carmen Rudy, were found in June 2003 near I-290 in Marlboro, Mass.

Also in June 2003, Dinelia Torres was found off I-290 in Hudson. In September 2004, Wendy Morello was found in a 35-gallon trash can in York, Maine. In September 2007, Lineida Olivera was found in the woods off Rte. 122 in Rutland, Mass.

In Worcester Superior Court, Alex F. Scesny, 39, is arraigned on charges of murder and aggravated rape of Theresa K. Stone, 39. According to the coroner's report, she died of "asphyxia caused by strangulation by a ligature." The evidence against Scesny includes DNA drawn from him in another case in which he had been charged, and acquitted of, sexually assaulting and trying to smother a woman in a West Boylyston Motel on March 17, 2007. The DNA matches that found in the Fitchburg case of Theresa K. Stone back in 1996. Scesny lived in Fitchburg at the time.

The thing that strikes me most about Scesny is that he looks and acts so normal. Indeed, with an athletic build and a full head of dark hair in a stylish haircut, the guy is downright handsome. Looking at him, it's hard to imagine him as a serial killer. Oh, sorry. He is accused of one murder. The office of the Middlesex District Attorney will say only that "he is certainly a person of interest in our investigation into the Metrowest murders in our county."

There is good reason to see why. The skeletal remains of Ms. Montalvo and Ms. Rudy were found on the grounds of a school, the Hillside School in Marlboro, where Mr. Scesny's father was caretaker. The younger Scesny lived at an address owned by the school. The deaths of the other two women, Ms. Morello and Ms. Olivera, were similar to those of the other three victims.

The killings of Will Smith and these six women did not happen in some faraway place. They happened a few miles from my home. I play tennis a few blocks from where young Will Smith met a sudden, senseless, violent end before his life had even begun. Tragically, the story of Will Smith is one that we have all seen played out many times.

Young people, often college students (Worcester has 10 colleges), have a party. There is music, horseplay, and plenty of drinking. A look or a word hits someone the wrong way. Words are exchanged. There is pushing and shoving. Suddenly a knife or gun is drawn -- and a young man falls bleeding and dies.

Or maybe it's a gang killing. Almost exactly a year ago, two young men were gunned down in an apartment on the very street where Will Smith was killed. Two intruders barged into the building, stormed up the stairs, kicked in the door, and opened fire on Andrew P. Robinson, 29, and Luis Acevedo, 24, killing them both.
The killings, which took place in a quiet, well-kept neighborhood right near a community elementary school, shocked and frightened residents. In the photo, a TV reporter interviews a community activist with the apartment where the murders took place in the background.

I find myself getting used to it. "Another stabbing," I say to my wife Barbara as we read the papers over breakfast.

"Yeah, I saw that," she says.

We could be talking about the weather.

Has killing become mundane? Are we so used to violence that we barely notice it? Has it become so much a part of our lives that we look upon violence and killing as normal? Do we have a mass morbid fascination that keeps us actually wanting more? Do we contrive to set aside moral qualms so that the killing can continue, bigger and better? Most unsettling of all, has killing become entertainment?

In the latest New Yorker, there is a full-page color ad for the season premiere of "Dexter." The ad is shown here. "Dexter" is about the adventures of a serial killer. The cover shows him with a bloodied knife that he has used on his most recent victim. He is asking us, his confidantes, to keep quiet about what we know, presumably so the killings can continue. It is a conspiracy of death and we are all asked to be in on it because it is right and because it is good entertainment.

The ad explains:

"Okay, so he kills people. We all have our little secrets. Cut Dexter Morgan some slack, though -- once you get past the whole murder thing, he's really a likeable guy. You don't get to be America's favorite serial killer without considerable charm, not to mention something that his fellow serials lack: standards. you see, he's a serial killer who kills other serial killers. He has found a way to feed his dark impulses while making the streets safer for the rest of us. It doesn't exactly make him a "good" guy, but he certainly has a refreshing take on taking life."

Lots of viewers agree since "Dexter" is now in its third season on Showtime. I had never seen a single installment and had no desire to see one now. But I decided to look in on the season premiere to see if it was a sick as I expected it to be. It is. This is a character, played by Michael C. Hall, who is likeable and normal to a fault --a job as a forensic expert in the Miami-Dade Police Department, an apartment, a girlfriend who calls him a "great, gentle, generous guy" and falls all over him.

She doesn't know that the only reason he is seeing her is that not having a girlfriend at his young age would only raise eyebrows. It wouldn't be "normal." "She assumes we've taken it to the next level," Dexter says. "She doesn't know yet, I don't have a next level."

On the job, he brings donuts for the cops and he makes them look good by helping them close cases. He's a good guy as opposed to all those bad guys out there. He makes it impossible for any cop to look at him and say "serial killer," even if one should come upon him with a corpse and a bloody knife in his hand.

Dexter Morgan is not your street-level psychopath. He's got class. He's a charmer. But he would be the first to describe himself as a soulless vendetta machine. In a simple, to-the-point voiceover narration, he says, "I'm a very neat monster," while packing up the remains of a pederast and child murderer into a few tall kitchen bags. "Whatever made me the way I am left me hollow, empty inside. People fake a lot of human interactions, but I fake it all, and I fake it very well...."

Fake humanity. Morally condoned killing. Just what we need. If that's not enough for a thumbs-down on "Dexter," there's the obscene language. If THAT won't keep you away, how about fake, empty entertainment that's just as soulless as Dexter Morgan himself?

But surely, you are thinking, "Dexter" is an aberration. Would that it were. For a female counterpart to Dexter Morgan, you can pick up a copy of a new book by Chelsea Cain, "Sweetheart." It's about a beautiful serial killer who likes to watch her victims suffer, combining blood lust with sadism. Her favorite victims are children.

This psychopath's name is Gretchen Lowell. Like Dexter Morgan, she has standards. She speaks softly, has impeccable blonde hair, and dresses tastefully. Her love interest is Detective Archie Sheriden who in the past has been duped and tortured by his "sweetheart." (She tied him to a gurney, poured drain cleaner down his throat, removed his spleen and carved up his torso with a scalpel).

He enjoyed it. Though physically scarred by Gretchen, Archie wants more. He cannot stop fantacizing about being tortured by his beautiful blonde sweetheart, even while attempting a modicum of normalcy with his long-suffering wife. For most of the book, Archie struggles with sexual Stockholm syndrome -- in which a victim is emotionally attached to a victimizer -- while the reader is caught up in the fear that Gretchen will torture, literally, his innocent wife and children.

With Gretchen's penchant for amateur surgery, "Sweetheart" is graphic. She likes to leave entrails as a memento mori. You know what I'm thinking? I'm thinking that Gretchen Lowell and Dexter Morgan would be perfect for each other. I can see it now, a new TV series on Showtime: "Dexter and Gretchen." Sure, it would be a new low in sick violence. But can you imagine how popular it would be?

That almost certain popularity says a lot about us as Americans. We are not only drawn to violence as entertainment, but commit it, accept it, tolerate it, and ignore it as we go about our lives. It is my wife and I barely noticing the latest killing around where we live because we have accepted it as normal.

When sudden violence takes the life of a college student like Will Smith, it is an old story. Partying young men always drink too much, then get into an argument that turns into a fight and someone is shot or stabbed to death. We think: That's never going to change and move on.

Even the violence that the Dexter-like Alex F. Scesny is accused of (raping and strangling Theresa K. Stone) and suspected of (raping and strangling five other women working as prostitutes in Worcester), we take in our stride. Six women are horrifically dead and 22 innocent, motherless children are bequeathed a heritage of violence. We say, "Isn't there a TV program about that? We should watch it. When is it on?"

So, yes, just as the violence goes on, so does life. I pick up today's (October 1) Worcester Telegram & Gazette. There is a headline saying that two men have just been given life imprisonment without parole in a man's killing. I wonder: what killing was that? I read the story.
Oh, yeah, that one. The one where a 22-year-old Worcester man, Bernard Johnson, had just proposed to his girlfriend and the happy couple went off to a party in Somerville. Upon leaving the party, Johnson was confronted by Valentino Facey, 21, who tried to grab his gold chain. They struggled. Facey pulled a gun. Another man, Walter Norris, 20, ran up with a gun. Johnson was shot several times "as a group of other men watched," according to today's story.

I had forgotten that one.

So long and keep moving.

NOTE: My novel, State Kid: Hero of Literacy is now available on Amazon and with the Nook.

Billy Stone was a foster child.

He ran away from abuse.

He went to juvenile prison.

He went up from there.

And he did it his way.

With the power of the written word. 

Amazon E-Books by George Pollock

 "State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his  real-life experiences  growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison;  "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life;  "A Long, Happy, Healthy Life,"  is about how to live the title every day; and "Unlove Story," Writing anonymously as "Elvis," a husband, dumped after 38 years of marriage, lets it all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? It's unheard of.
   For the Nook:

A Beautiful Story
A Long, Happy, Healthy Life
I, Cadaver
State Kid
Unlove Story

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


At April 09, 2009 8:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well,Mr.Scesny is a white male many times aquitted of sexual abuse and assault against olive complected small mothers.His family owns a construction company,a huge lobby.And new england is no matter what any one says conservative.I believe not only does new england condone these actions,but the U.S. with the highest rate of serial killers in the world condones these actions.And there appears to be no equal protection under the law for women,because most serial killers target women.


Post a Comment

Comments welcome.

<< Home