Issue 04: True Crime Urban Legends in Entertainment

From absurd notions to verified facts, we explore some true crime urban legends in popular media that weren’t entirely true… but sort of were.

By Josh Lami

Say it with me: “Artists Are Liars”

            In 2019, the “real vs. imaginary” conversation needs regular maintenance, even into adulthood. Misinformation is abundant and seemingly impossible to escape on the internet. Forums and social media perpetuate it, false news sites exist to fan flames, and I don’t know how to fix any of that. With that in mind, let’s try and take something superfluous out of the misinformation equation and address something we already know, but sometimes seem to forget.

Movies and television shows have the defining characteristic of seeming real while not actually being real. Numerous elements are used to bring a filmmaker’s imagination to life, like writing, editing, and special effects. This isn’t unique to cinema. Novels are exaggerated and embellished. Song lyrics are hyperbolic. Stand-up comedians make up stories. Artists are liars.

Every movie or television series you have ever seen, tells a lie. Granted, the extent varies from one work to another, but even the most integral of documentaries exhibits some dishonesty. At best, a documentary takes months to complete. Usually they take years or even decades. After filming, they’re edited to be seamless, to exclude heavy legwork and boring parts are removed. Information is packaged and delivered to viewers in as easily digestible a manner as possible. No one can include years and years’ worth of findings in a 90-minute documentary, or even a ten-part docuseries. Decisions are made about what to keep and what to cut. You’re not seeing the entire picture and you never will. Music and lighting are added to stir a mood or emotion where the camera alone may be insufficient. Documentaries vary in terms of reliability, many are even fine sources of information, but all are dishonest to some degree. That’s artistry.

It’s dishonest, even when it leads to some kind of greater truth in the end. Cameras don’t pick up everything, and worse, they play tricks. Check out episode one of the Netflix true crime series, Exhibit A. Imperfect as it is, it does discuss the endless faults of video cameras when used as evidence in criminal trials. Sometimes, cameras lie, even without manipulation. It goes without saying that when a filmmaker actively tries to use clever camerawork or editing in conjuring images or ideas, you’re essentially at their mercy.

Using dishonesty to keep an audience entertained, and simultaneously allow for creativity, doesn’t make an artist a bad, or even insensitive person. Factual-only storytelling is supposed to be for people like news reporters, scientists, detectives, lawyers, or teachers. In theory, they convey unobscured facts about history or current events and we learn something new. Sometimes they do their job well, other times not so much. Either way, it is not, nor has it ever been, the duty of an artist to report facts. The role of artist seems to have been confused with that of a courtroom transcriptionist, as artists constantly catch opposition for making up stories when it’s their job to do exactly that.

Part of the confusion lies with the fact that art has no rules. You can paint something ugly and people might love it. Writers can assert for hundreds or even thousands of pages that they are The Devil, and it’s not called mental illness, it’s called first person point of view. People can say anything they want for the sake of art or entertainment; it’s easy to forget, try not to.

True crime stories are becoming harder and harder to discern. Sometimes true crime media is clinically factual, other times it’s total artistic expression, and often, it’s a mix of both… I do both. We at Obscura don’t falsify information, but we love narrative storytelling. I think we make it clear, there’s a level of theater, but also a dedication to dignity and truth. Even still, it’s never a bad idea to check anyone’s sources and decide for yourself. When people suspect a truth may be present in a work of art, but don’t check sources, they run the risk of needlessly perpetuating misinformation. This often becomes something called an urban legend.

Let’s look at a few examples of famous urban legends stemming from works of art, particularly those involving true crime.

Claim: The movie Fargo is a true story. It depicts a lost briefcase full of money. That briefcase is still out there. Also, a woman once died while searching for that briefcase.

Status: No part of this is true, but one part of it is rooted in some semblance of a kind of truth-like thing.

Elaborate: The Coen Brothers have a weird sense of humor. Their movie, Fargo, claims in the opening, that it is a true story. It wasn’t. Some people didn’t understand the idea that, in a work of fiction, someone can say something is true, even if it isn’t. The movie involves misplaced ransom money. Some people reportedly thought the money might really be out there, still buried in the snow. Some may have even made the journey to North Dakota, in search.

Elaborate more, please: There are two urban legends to consider in this story.

First, the 1996 movie Fargo—written and directed by the Coen Brothers—claims to be based on true events, which is, of course, entirely false. The Coens have expressed this repeatedly. The idea of calling it a true story was about making a fictitious movie within a genre of older films that were based on true events. That’s kind of cool, actually, and makes a lot of sense if you consider the Coens’ dry sense of humor, present in all their work to date. Joel Coen once stated to The New York Times, the film is devoid of any historical accuracy.

The opening credits say that the film is “a true story” and that the events “took place in Minnesota in 1987.”

“This, however, is not the case,” Joel Coen said in an interview on Friday. “It’s completely made up. Or, as we like to say, the only thing true about it is that it’s a story.”

(Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/us/t-eugene-thompson-dies-at-88-crime-stunned-st-paul.html)

            Statements like this didn’t stop movie audiences from believing something contrary to it. Rumors abounded that, not only was the story true, but the briefcase full of money depicted in the movie is still sitting somewhere near a fence in Fargo, North Dakota. It not only wasn’t still sitting there, it was never there in the first place. I’m not sure anyone even actually believed in the existence of this briefcase, or if they just believed people believed it, and perpetuated the notion.

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Never happened.

Regardless, the myth of Fargo’s veracity led to yet-another urban legend.

Apparently, people were going out to Fargo in sub-zero temperatures and dying of exposure while looking for this non-existent briefcase. Unfortunately, there was actually some veracity to this, albeit slight. The most relayed of these stories goes something to the tune of:

“A woman from Japan came out to Fargo in search of the briefcase she’d seen in the movie. She went to a local police station, with a crudely drawn map, and asked where she might find the depicted location. No one spoke Japanese, she spoke no English, there was a tragic miscommunication, and sometime later, her body was found in the snow. She was dead after freezing to death while searching for imaginary money.”

Parts of this story are true. A woman from Japan did come out to Fargo in November of 2001; her name was Takoko Kanishi. Kanishi did visit local police. She did bring a map and there here was a tragic miscommunication. It even had a little bit to do with the movie Fargo. The irony here is that local police—not Takoko Kanishi—are the ones who pulled a Coen Brothers movie into the situation. Exasperated by a woman with which they could not communicate, someone in the station suggested she was there in search of the fabled money in Fargo.

That is not why she was there.

Officer Jesse Hellman was one of the officers trying to assist Kanishi with her decidedly vague map.

…they communicated with each other the best they could, one word at a time with a little pocket translator she had brought with her from home. "That didn't help at all. Confused me even more," he recalled, shaking his head gravely.

He spoke to Takako for four hours after she had been dropped off at the police station by a concerned citizen, a trucker, who had seen her wandering around. Jesse did his best to help her, but he felt guilty now. "I didn't think I had helped her at all, but I didn't know what else I could do. I felt really bad for her," he said…

Jesse told me about Takako's map, a white piece of paper, on which she had drawn a road and a tree. "That's where she wanted to go, she kept pointing at it. She kept saying something over and over, like 'Fargo' or some word like that. Like that's where she wanted to go. I remember that real clearly. But in North Dakota, practically everywhere you look, there's a road and a tree. So that didn't really help much."

"I had never seen the film Fargo, but another officer in the station had seen it and he told me that there was money buried in this movie. And then we started to think that she had this false impression that the money buried by a road by a tree was real in the movie. That's where she wanted to go. We thought that was really odd, but suddenly it all began to make sense."

Jesse remembered how he and the other officer tried to explain to Takako that Fargo was just a movie, that it was all make-believe. There was no treasure buried anywhere really, they kept trying to make her understand.

(Source: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2003/jun/06/artsfeatures1)

Takoko Kanishi was later found dead in the snow, but it was determined not to be related at all to the movie Fargo. Rather, Kanishi was there with the intent to commit suicide. She’d mailed a suicide note to her parents back home and, according to unverified rumors, had recently met an American business man from Fargo, North Dakota. Things had gone sour between them. Emotionally destroyed by this, she went out to Fargo, drank a couple of bottles of champagne, sat down in the snow, and let nature do the rest of the work.

Director David Zellner made a movie about the whole thing called Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.

It’s not so ear-catching a story as the idea of life imitating Oscar-winning art, at least not on the surface, but somewhere, buried in Takoko Kanishi’s final chronicle, is perhaps a story all-the-more intruiguining, and certainly more tragic. Fargo did play a role in this story, just not the role anyone initially thought. We’d never know Takoko Kanishi’s story, had it not been for a very specific chain of events and miscommunications.

That in and of itself, sounds like something the Coen Brothers would write.

 

Claim: Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails recorded The Downward Spiral at the home of Sharon Tate, where the Manson Family committed one of America’s most notorious murders. It was an effort to give the album a kind of morbid authenticity.

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Status: Completely true that the album was recorded there, but on the surface, it may paint an inaccurate portrait of Trent Reznor, and of the situation as a whole.

Elaborate: Trent Reznor bought the house in which the Manson family murdered Sharon Tate. He recorded an album there. He was likely unaware that it was Tate’s home before buying it. Even when he certainly knew, it was never a source of boasting on Reznor’s part. In fact, he seemed to dislike talking about it in the press. The story was probably far more controversial than it should have been.  

Elaborate more, please: Interesting thing about this myth, it’s perpetuated not by any particular work of art, but by music journalists in general. It seems to me like it was done in an effort to sensationalize something that isn’t particularly sensational.

If you’re thinking, “that’s called a ‘spin,’ you’re correct.

See, when something like a big album or movie comes out, it has a kind of lifespan. As a news writer, you might be covering every piece of news on it for that lifespan. It can get monotonous. You’ll cover the hype leading up to the release, the press tour prior to release, the release itself, the critical response to the release, the fan response to the release, the release’s commercial performance. You might analyze the release yourself, you’ll cover the tour in support of the release, you’ll cover all the controversy associated with the release, you’ll find you’re running out of shit to say about the release, but eventually, the release will fade away and become old news. You’ll be thankful you no longer have to cover it.

If you’re a news writer covering a Nine Inch Nails album called The Downward Spiral, and today, Trent Reznor announces, say, a tour in support of that album, you may have to draft an article. Maybe you don’t have anything in particular to say about it—other than listing the opening acts and tour dates—because you’ve already reported on this album to death, but that doesn’t matter. The article is due and it has to be a minimum of six-hundred words. It also has to be interesting. If possible, you’ll want to throw a tidbit of controversial information into this relatively meaningless story. It will probably be a reach, but if you’re good at writing, you can make it seamless. This helps with word count and piquing a reader’s interest. For most news articles, there’s somewhere between one and three sentences of actual news, then a bunch of irrelevant information or maybe an attempt at analysis.

Simply put, this fact started as a “Did I really just read that?” headline, which might be a fun little tidbit to know about an album you love, but it quickly descended into filler information for countless news articles.

If you’ve ever listened to Nine Inch Nails’ 1994 smash hit, The Downward Spiral, you’re probably curious as to how such a dark, raw album managed to be a major pop hit. Answer: It was the ‘90s. It’s chock full of raw, visceral, intense music, ranging from abrasive heavy metal, to subdued and quiet piano-laden tracks. Lyrically, it gets downright uncomfortable at times, even twenty-five years later. One of the more shocking aspects of this album lies, not in the music, but with the location where it was recorded.. It was indeed recorded in the same home where Sharon Tate was brutally murdered by people under the instruction of Charles Manson.  Trent Reznor—Nine Inch Nails’ driving creative force at the time—must have sought out a really dark corner of American history to record such a dark album. That makes sense, right?

            Well, yes, it does make sense when you say it like that, but it’s not what happened, at least not according to Reznor. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he states it was a coincidence:

…recording Nine Inch Nails' second full album in a studio he's fitted into the white-walled living room where Tate was killed.

Given the brutal nature of Reznor's music, the house seems fitting. But sitting in a dimly lit corner of the studio, swiveling in an office chair and biting his fingers, he explains that setting this site was the result of serendipity, not willful perversity or conscious image mongering.

"It's a coincidence," says Reznor, who is twenty-seven, swearing that he decided to rent the house before knowing of its notorious past. "When I found out what it was, it was even cooler. But it's a cool house anyway and on top of that has a very interesting story behind it. "The whole thing of living out here, I didn't even think of it," Reznor says. "I didn't go on a press campaign saying 'I live in Sharon Tate's house, and I'm really spooky'."

(Source: http://www.theninhotline.net/archives/articles/xart13.shtml)

 

            The album was recorded in private, with no mention of the location as a selling point to drum up controversy. In fact, Reznor also mentions that most of the album’s lyrics were written prior to his acquirement of the home. Interesting coincidence, considering the word “pig” is something of a motif within the album. Song-titles like “Piggy” and “March of the Pigs” immediately jump out to anyone knowing their Manson history. Naturally, most assumed these were references to the word ‘Pig’ having been written in blood on the front door of that home by members of the Manson Family. Not according to Reznor. He did directly reference the coincidence by later naming this home studio, ‘Le Pig,’ but even that little nod ended up being something he regretted.

While I was working on Downward Spiral, I was living in the house where Sharon Tate was killed. Then one day I met her sister. It was a random thing, just a brief encounter. And she said: "Are you exploiting my sister's death by living in her house?" For the first time the whole thing kind of slapped me in the face. I said, "No, it's just sort of my own interest in American folklore. I'm in this place where a weird part of history occurred." I guess it never really struck me before, but it did then. She lost her sister from a senseless, ignorant situation that I don't want to support. When she was talking to me, I realized for the first time, "What if it was my sister?" I thought, "Fuck Charlie Manson." I don't want to be looked at as a guy who supports serial-killer bullshit." I went home and cried that night. It made me see there's another side to things, you know? It's one thing to go around with your dick swinging in the wind, acting like it doesn't matter. But when you understand the repercussions that are felt ... that's what sobered me up: realizing that what balances out the appeal of the lawlessness and the lack of morality and that whole thing is the other end of it, the victims who don't deserve that”

(Source: http://www.lynchnet.com/lh/lhrs3.html)

            Upon completion of recording The Downward Spiral, Reznor sold the house and went back to his Garden District home in New Orleans, Louisiana. He did take the Tate home’s front door, however, as a souvenir. That door remained as the main entrance to his New Orleans studio, Nothing Studios, until Trent departed New Orleans for good in the early ‘00s.

Door as originally seen with “pig,” written in blood.

Door as originally seen with “pig,” written in blood.

Door at Nothing Studios, circa late ‘90s.

Door at Nothing Studios, circa late ‘90s.

Former site of Nothing Studios, as seen on Magazine Street in New Orleans, LA. 2018.

Former site of Nothing Studios, as seen on Magazine Street in New Orleans, LA. 2018.

Claim: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Is A True Story.

Status: Not true, the story is entirely fictional, but it was inspired by something true. As is the case with virtually every horror movie.

Elaborate: It’s inspired by a real killer, but so what? Wes Craven’s real childhood bully inspired Freddy Krueger. A Nightmare on Elm Street is still very much a work of fiction. Likewise, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a fictional horror film from start to finish. Like Fargo, it claims to be a true story, but it isn’t. The same killer inspired Psycho and Silence of the Lambs, but they’re all vastly different films. Somewhere, someone is making up a story. Could it be… all of them?

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Elaborate more, please: When I first saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I believed it was a true story. Bear in mind it was more than twenty years after the movie’s release, but also bear in mind I was a kid and probably not thinking critically. Online information wasn’t at my disposal like it is today. Part of the reason people think this movie is a true story is because the goddamn thing feels so real. It’s shot less like a movie and more like a documentary. To further exacerbate matters, stories about the production of this movie are a horror movie all their own. Director Tobe Hooper used a lot of props in the movie that… well, weren’t props. They used a real human skeleton, because it was cheaper than a prop skeleton, and real animal parts were used all throughout.

“The remains of "eight cows, three goats, one chicken, two deer, and an armadillo" were also incorporated into the set, to create an authentic slaughterhouse atmosphere.”

(Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/11135854/The-Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre-10-true-stories.html)

Actors were miserable while shooting, so they don’t just look upset, they’re actually undergoing psychological torture. People were injured, it was boiling hot, and success wasn’t guaranteed. This movie is just a hoot. How true is the actual story?

It isn’t. There is no Leatherface, nor has there ever been. There was no decaying farmhouse with a family of cannibals dwelling within—at least not related to this story, and, thank Christ, there was no Franklin.

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So what was there?

Ed Gein.

That’s it, just Ed Gein. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre featured a madman wearing other people’s faces over his own, and an apron fashioned from stitched-together human flesh. Ed Gein was know for similar behavior and he had his home decorated with human remains. He’s inspired a number of movies, including the aforementioned Psycho and Silence of the Lambs. Ed Gein was an interesting cat. Evil, sure, but it would seem his horrible ways are matched only by his ability to inspire. He got the gears turning in, not just Tobe Hooper’s mind, but in that of Robert Bloch, Alfred Hitchcock, and Thomas Harris as well. His atrocities yielded inspiration for three movies considered extremely relevant pieces of American cinema.

Thing is, if someone told the true story of Ed Gein, front to back with no embellishment, no added narrative, no sense of artistry, it probably wouldn’t make for a critically lauded movie. It would be horrifying, yes, but clinical, futile, unpleasant, the violence would become redundant after a while, and few people would want to see that. Horror is probably my personal favorite genre, but it’s the most likely to try and fool viewers into thinking a story is true, when in fact, it’s very much not.

 Here’s an abbreviated list of horror films I’m referring to:

The Blair Witch Project – Not true, not even a little bit.

Cannibal Holocaust – A work of fiction with actors, special effects, the whole nine yards. That said, the animal killings on screen were quite real and quite graphic. In fact, a monkey was killed onscreen and the film’s director didn’t get the shot he needed, so another monkey was then brought in and killed for filming purposes.

Poltergeist – Not true. Loosely based on a family in New York. I mean, if an entire house had been sucked into a portal at some point in American history, we’d know about that, wouldn’t we? That said, there were a number of untimely deaths among the cast, following the film’s release. This has often been referred to as a “curse” of sorts. The untimely deaths are true, curses in general remain unverified.

The Conjuring – There are people in real life who claim it’s true. It’s based on the claims of Ed and Lorraine Warren, two paranormal investigators. There’s a lot of criticism against them. They never produced scientific evidence of their claims. Whether you believe them or not, the movie itself is still considered a work of fiction.

The Amityville Horror – Like The Conjuring, varying reports of factual accuracy abound, but it’s decidedly a work of fiction.

The Shining – Inspired by The Stanley Hotel, which spooked Stephen King, and is reportedly haunted. The Shining, however, is not at all a factual story about a man who went insane and chased after his wife and child with an axe.

We could keep going, but the point is, as a rule, horror movies are usually inspired by some level of truth, and almost never tell a true story. That’s the case with just about any work of fiction, really. Most this is widely known information, it can be found online or in DVD commentary tracks easily. Even so, people regularly hear or read claims about movies and then repeat them as fact. Hopefully, this can serve as a kind of reminder to always check sources for any claim, especially when it seems difficult to believe. Furthermore, I hope it reminds people to never take works of fiction as anything other than what they are. Lastly, I hope no one ever allows the truth to get in their way of enjoying a great story. I’ve referenced a number of lying-ass movies today, admittedly, but many of them are still great films.

That’s it for this issue of the Obsucra True Crime Blog. Always feel free to point out any inaccuracies I may be perpetuating, and especially feel free to point out any in this post. Thanks for reading, and as always, keep the fire burning.

Issue 03: Coming Down In New Orleans Part 02

Ambiguities in the Zach and Addie case. 

Written By Josh Lami

“If the moon smiled, she would resemble you.

You leave the same impression

Of something beautiful, but annihilating.”

― Sylvia Plath

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The Zach and Addie Show

Zach Bowen is the focus of every article, book, or television special made about the murder of Addie Hall. Accoladed with the tragicomic nickname, “The Katrina Cannibal,” Zach is no Charles Manson or John Wayne Gacy, in terms of infamy, but he’s quite the spotlight hog on The Zach and Addie Show. He left behind an eight-page suicide note, giving insight to the tormented mind and soul of this broken soldier.

Addie didn’t leave a note, she didn’t get that chance.

Thirteen years after her death and dismemberment, Adriane Mathias Hall remains an equivocation; one ambiguity shy of an enigma. Details of her pre-New Orleans life lie buried in the cerebral soils of long-convalesced friends and a mute family. Few inquire, because few care. Addie wasn’t the media headline. She wasn’t the maniacal psychopath. She was the mutilated stack of severed limbs in his bathtub; congealed viscera some poor bastard had to clean up; a seared torso found in an oven. The catalyst for Zach Bowen’s celebrity status, nothing more. As a whole, we humans unite on very little, but once upon a time, we all came to a demented agreement, to erase cadaverous strangers with moments of silence, leave their memories with crestfallen loved ones, and immortalize their destroyers. Never is the collapsing throat so intriguing as the hand that grips it.

Intuition

 

If you wish to be a writer or an artist, trusting intuition is a vital component—non-negotiable. To clarify, my usage of the word ‘intuition’ should not be associated with pseudo-scientific concepts, such as clairvoyance, or Extra Sensory Perception. What I’m referring to is more akin to intelligence, both cognitive and emotional. There are primal instincts. We know, without being told, to drink when thirsty, to reproduce, to fight back, or flee, from danger. Evolution has rendered living creatures with pre-installed software. An intuitive person has a kind of innate sense of direction and keen sense of abstraction. They notice and collect details in a given situation, then assemble them like puzzle pieces in the subconscious. Pieces begin to fit, and after enough of the edges are connected, the brain sends a message to your gut. So comes a knowing, inexplicable on the surface, but often enough, astute.

Everyone has it, few people trust it.

Great artists, scientists, and political figures followed their emotional and intellectual instincts and changed the world. The line begins to blur when you remember, intuition can be wrong. There’s no such thing as infallibility. The line goes completely out of focus when legalities are involved. A great detective must be intuitive, as does an investigative journalist, but both can fall victim to biases.

Bigotry, confused emotions, wishing something were so, and most disturbingly, spite are all demonstrable pitfalls within the world of law enforcement and journalism. It’s key to be confident in every endeavor you pursue, but it’s also compulsory to stop and question one’s self. Without confidence in their acuity, a detective can never solve a murder case, but even the strongest sense of knowing should not be favored over provable truths.

Then there’s the courtroom. Gut feelings and intuition have no business here. We convict or acquit based on factual evidence or lack thereof. At least, that’s the theory. In truth, we send people to prison every day based on broad generalizations, circumstantial evidence, and delusions of knowing how to spot a criminal just by looking at them. Jury of your peers? Eh. That’s too optimistic a concept for me. From my perception, you, the accused, will sit before a jury consisting of perhaps a few peers. Hope, pray, cast a spell… do whatever you deem necessary to ensure those peers of yours serving on the jury maintain their unwavering dedication to absolute justice. Lest these potential saviors forsake the absolution of empirical evidence after being browbeaten by an obnoxious juror with a hunch. Those peers of yours may well be deliberating with fellow citizens who just don’t like the look of you. It’s not a reality I’d have chosen for humanity, but it’s the one we got.

                With that thought in mind, I refuse to make any direct accusations at anyone in the Zach and Addie case without hard facts. What I will do, is discuss some of the questions I’m trying to answer. I’ll go over the discrepancies, the odd coincidences, and even some of the chilling implications I’ve pondered, but what I won’t do is accuse anyone of a crime. I’m not finished researching, I may never be, and even if I do find an end to this story, I’m fully prepared to accept that I may be wrong about everything. So to answer what may be a glaring question about this blog entry, am I going on intuition or factual evidence? Both. Intuition for the initial curiosity and for deciding which leads I determine most important to follow. Facts for what I report.

What about Addie?

Zach Bowen’s family has spoken out. They’ve expressed remorse for the atrocities that occurred on Rampart street in 2006. They were, as to be expected, shocked and devastated.  There’s a book called Shake the Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder that Rocked New Orleans by Ethan Brown which delves deep into Zach’s history and military service. The book does go into Addie’s history a little, but it’s broad, and nowhere near central to the story.

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I want to know more about Addie. Why? Two reasons.

First, the reason anyone is drawn to the world of true crime, good old fashioned morbid curiosity. Let’s just get that undeniable truth out of the way right off the bat. Why do people like horror films? True Crime? YouTube videos of guy getting kicked in the nuts? Poems by suicidal authors? They want a look behind the forbidden curtain. They want to see something bad happen without having to be involved. We could go on forever about why we’re so interested in all this horrible stuff, and perhaps someday we will, but not today.

Second, I want to know more about Addie because I think it’s important that a victim’s story be told. I think Zach’s story is probably as important as Addie’s, but to tell one in such detail without including the other, it just seems lopsided. Unfair. The moment I started researching this story, I made the decision to tell it from Addie’s point of view, if for no other reason than Zach’s was everywhere. Within a day, I realized part of why everyone defaults over to Zach’s story is the fact that it’s so much easier to piece together. The view into Addie’s past isn’t veiled, it’s opaque.

 Nearest I can tell, there’s no reliable source for information on Addie Hall. Here’s what there is:

1.      Friend accounts – Mostly unreliable. One of the few things we know about Addie is she was something of a party girl. The friends who have spoken up about her offer varying accounts of her demeanor and little, if anything, about her pre-New Orleans life. Another problem with friend accounts is that if you go to New Orleans and bring up either Zach or Addie to a local, they will say something to the tune of “Oh, they we’re actually friends of mine.” I quickly began to suspect a large number of people are claiming to have been close with Zach and Addie for purposes of seeking attention. The people who did know (or claim to have known) Addie vary wildly on their opinions of her. Some liked or loved her, others project furious hatred toward her. In fact, some of the information I’ve uncovered myself lend some credence to the idea that I may ultimately end up painting an unflattering portrait of the victim in this case. We’ll come back to the intense disdain for Addie Hall later.

 

2.      News Reports – Unreliable isn’t the word, more like imperfect. They’re often conflicting from one outlet to the next when it comes to little details. That’s true for just about any news story.

 

Sometimes facts just get confused, typos happen, miscommunications, any number of things can cause discrepancies. It’s innocent. That makes them imperfect, which isn’t tantamount to being unreliable. Generally, the major news outlets are reporting facts. The bigger the news source, the more likely they are to use broad strokes when reporting a story; the more likely they are to generalize. Sometimes news outlets spin a story to fit a narrative, it’s easy to do and good for increasing traffic. Sometimes news writers intentionally leaves out pertinent information. It happens at the request of law enforcement, some do it to better insinuate something they want readers to believe, other times it’s because they’re censored by an editor. The point here is, most news outlets (CNN, NBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and even Fox News) aren’t reporting made up stories packed full of abject lies. They can’t. That’s called libel and it ain’t legal. Every news outlet is reliable, to a degree, and every news outlet is “fake news,” to some extent. That’s why it’s important to read a story from numerous different outlets before coming to a conclusive opinion on it. Somewhere amid all those spins, your brain will assemble the puzzle (personally, I find NPR to be the least slanted and most reliable).

 

Local news outlets are more likely to have personal details of the victims or offenders, but are also more succeptible to emotional bias. This story happened on their front porch, after all. I’m much more equipped to cover a story about my neighbor’s murder than I am, say, the murder of a thirty-year-old woman from New Orleans. But I’m also more likely to be clouded by my own emotions or biases in a case so close to home. This isn’t to suggest local journalists in New Orleans can’t do their job. It’s just something I try to keep in mind.

 

Even still, details about Addie are scant in every news article or report I’ve come across—local or national.  They might mention she was a bartender, originally from my home state of North Carolina, a heavy drinker, a Katrina survivor, and a poet, but that’s about it. You find more information about Addie’s past in the comments section of these news articles, than in the articles themselves. Unreliable information, but information all the same. We’ll come back to news comment sections about Addie Hall later.

 

1.      Police – In my limited experience, they’re unreliable. The New Orleans Police Department? It’s an open secret that police withhold information—often with good reason. More to the point, is the notoriously unscrupulous NOPD not a monument to the systemic shortcomings of law enforcement in America?

 

I once saw a man vomit what looked and smelled like concentrated absinthe onto a sidewalk running along Bourbon Street, then sink to his knees, lean over, rest his head on the pavement, and pass out. Two police officers were having a conversation at the corner of this sidewalk, not more than fifty feet away. They paused and looked over, glared at the collapsed delinquent for a moment, and then resumed conversing. Their gratuitous display of irresponsibility brought about an emotional compound I’d never considered. Benumbed and wise to the fact that no one in the Quarter expects a hero, I was simultaneously outraged at this apathy by public servants toward a man potentially succumbing to alcohol poisoning. Somewhere betwixt these contradictory feelings, was a modicum of empathy for this fellow degenerate. I’d been there, and I’d be there again. Inebriated myself, there was little I could do to help. In truth, he probably just needed to sleep it off. Drunk people puke and pass out all the time, the survival rate of such an ordeal is high. With the help of a friend, I rolled him onto his side and propped him against a wall, stepped over a massive puddle of upchuck, and moved on with my life. The point here is, I, a passerby, was more motivated to do the job of the NOPD than they were. It thus occurs to me, the police probably didn’t give a shit then, and they sure don’t care now. They had to put on a concerned face for the press, but more than likely, they just wanted to be done with it. Furthermore, the Chief of police at the time, Joseph Waguespack, has made statements to the press that sources have told me aren’t exactly truthful. We’ll come back to the questionable police statements in the murder of Addie Hall later.

 

2.      Family – Unreliable, if they exist. There is no family to speak of for Addie Hall. Unlike Zach’s family, Addie’s did not speak out. They didn’t refute, they didn’t confirm, they didn’t hold a candlelight vigil, they didn’t say a goddamn word in public. That’s fair. Their daughter was murdered, chopped up in a bathtub, cooked and—according to the New Orleans Police Department—not eaten?  Whatever the case, something horrible happened to this family and their desire for privacy should be respected.

 

I don’t have children, but if you recall Season 1, Episode 26 of Obscura, I’ve stood in the presence of people who have just lost a daughter. They wanted to do many things at that time, but none of those things included speaking to a fucking news reporter. So I get it. I didn’t really even question it until I read an ABC News article stating “the remains have yet to be identified because of the state of the body.” The article was dated October 20th, 2006. Addie was murdered on October 5th, according to her grave. It is possible that they could have been waiting on DNA results or dental records, these things take time, but I started searching for any article or court document that might indicate when her body was identified. I got curious about her family life when I found out Addie’s remains weren’t claimed for months after her death. A few possibilities struck me, the first being; it might be expensive to transport human remains halfway across the country. Perhaps Addie’s family were of little means. Another factor may have been the need for police and investigators to keep the remains for any number of reasons to properly close the case. However, Addie was known to have been estranged from her family, and so, the possibility that no one gave a shit was hanging in the air as well.

 

I was searching for any sign that any family member gave any hint of a damn about Addie’s death. I found nothing. Not even a surviving family member name in an obituary. Again, their desire for privacy must be respected. I wasn’t planning to reach out, clearly, they don’t want to speak about this. I just wanted to know that someone out there loved her.

 

I’m still trying to confirm that.

What Parents?

Going deep beneath the surface in researching Addie Hall’s past is disturbing for a number of reasons. The first thing I noticed was how difficult it was to pin down a mother and/or father in her history. In fact, any relative with the last name of Hall, initially, was impossible to find on any kind of public listing. Since I started doing my research, I’ve noticed some Hall names have popped up on public databases, added, I assume, by people who have been doing similar research. When I first started searching, there was nothing. I had do some maneuvering to identify Addie likely-parents. It wasn’t difficult to do, but there are some glaring signs they don’t wish to be contacted, and thus, I’m not going to identify them here, I haven’t reached out, and I don’t plan to.

Coolcat          

            Back on the subject of comments sections of news articles, I was once perusing information on the Zach and Addie case and happened upon a number of comments that seemed potentially useful. People claiming to be cousins, childhood friends, etc… Maybe these people would be interested in speaking about her, if I could contact them and verify a connection. Then there was a remarkably long post from a person calling himself “coolcat.” He claims to have been her “lover” in New Orleans in 2003. When I mentioned earlier that some people seemed to despise Addie Hall, this is one example of that. I don’t want to legitimize this person who may well have just been a troll, but this guy was providing eerily specific details about Addie’s life. Unflattering ones.  Alas, other people corroborate some of it, indirectly. At one point he calls her a “part time prostitute” and claims to have contracted STDs from her. He also mentions that Addie accused her own brother of rape, and asserts she was destroyed that her family didn’t believe the allegations. It was taken with a grain of salt at first, but numerous other sources seemed to be confirming that Addie alleged sexual abuse before fleeing to New Orleans.  I don’t know who “coolcat” is, nor do I care, but seeing that post was eye-opening in seeing the extent to which people were going in an effort to slam Addie and defend Zach.

He mentions Addie carried a gun, which I had already confirmed via a police record. She was charged with possession of marijuana and assault upon a peace officer with a firearm on, or around, August 15th, 2006. She was due in court October 16th, but obviously didn’t make it to her court date.

 Whoever this was, I personally believe was someone close to Zach and/or Addie. The poster even calls Zach “more the victim” than Addie at one point. The cherry on top, was the accusation that Zach had been cheating on Addie, prior to the murder. I found a number of accusations stating the same.

In that same comments section was a post by Margaret Sanchez, someone who claimed to have worked and been friends with Zach and Addie. This wasn’t uncommon, in fact, she was quite prone to visiting online comment sections and posting emotional content, expressing her sadness and pointing out the fact that Zach and Addie were close friends of hers. I’ve found countless examples of this. Furthemore, she once appeared in a documentary, tearfully recollecting her friendship with the couple. At one point, she even offers up alternate scenarios, in place of those provided by police and investigators, for how and why the murder occurred.

Why would she do that?

As most people are aware, Margaret Sanchez was later convicted of murdering and dismembering a young woman named Jaren Lockhart. She was a dancer in the French Quarter.

Sanchez was sentenced to forty years in prison for her role in that crime.

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Katrina Cannibal?

A discreperency troubling me was the fact that, as previously stated, police deny the idea that Zach Bowen cannibalized Addie Hall. Supposedly he cooked her, but didn’t eat her. That may not be altogether true. I’ve heard from a number of sources, who have looked at the crime scene photos, that there were pictures of a fork in the remains and meat had clearly been pulled from bone with it. I had to see for myself. Understand, I didn’t want to see these photos, in fact I was dreading looking at them, but to answer that question, I’d have to at least try.

I requested all crime scene documents from the New Orleans Police Department, went through the proper channels, provided the proper credentials, and was approved. I was to remit payment of approximately $60 and they would electronically send the requested information, which included: crime scene notes, photos, the full suicide note, coroner’s reports, etc… I mailed the payment (in the form of a money order), as requested, but never received the promised information. I’d expected it to take a while, police departments aren’t known for processing things like this with any sense of urgency, but after quite some time, I inquired. The response I received said no one at their office had received anything, and they would send the requested documents once they received payment. I had taken photos of the envelope I sent and the tracking info, which I forwarded to the NOPD. No one responded. I wasn’t sure whether to continue waiting or cancel the money order and try again. Not wanting to shit myself out of another $60, I decided to just go back to New Orleans on my own and review the information in person; I needed to go back anyway. It will give me a chance to speak with some residents about the case in person, which is always better than phones or online. You get a better read on people when you’re in their presence.  That trip is scheduled for later this year.

            What does Margaret Sanchez have to do with this? Maybe nothing. This could all be a big coincidence. Why would the police lie about that one specific detail? I don’t know. I have my suspicions, but I don’t want to speculate publicly. To do so would be irresponsible. In the end, all of this could amount to absolutely nothing. There’s only one way to find out.

Bloody Mary

         

One of the more interesting aspects of this entire experience, to me, was the fact that someone was charging admission to Zach and Addie’s apartment. Bloody Mary, aka Mary Milan, the person behind Blood Mary’s Haunted Museum, asserts herself as misunderstood in all this. She states that they—her business—are telling the real story, and that no one else is. She says they give a portion of the profits from Bloody Mary’s Haunted Museum to charities supporting victims of domestic violence. Maybe that’s true. I conducted an interview with Mary about a year ago. The audio isn’t great and she spends a lot of it explaining her view of various spiritual entities. I listened to it back with a friend and we both agreed it was mostly irrelevant, at least so far.

The conversation was pleasant. I explained up front that I didn’t believe in ghosts or spirits, but wanted to hear her side of things. She, as anyone would, defended her business venture, but did so tactfully. Full disclosure, I never got any creepy or nasty vibes from her. She seemed as genuine as anyone else you might meet in this world. I work in true crime, after all, I know what it’s like to be accused of exploitation. I haven’t transcribed the interview, but will at the conclusion of my research.

 Besides, is what she’s doing any different from people charging for tours to go by the LaLaurie Mansion and hear stories of slave torture?

Yes, at least I think so.

It feels different… to me. At the end of the day, that’s a matter of opinion, and legally speaking, these people are well within their rights, so far as I know. From a moral and ethical standpoint, I can’t help but notice, a living relative of the deceased is far more likely to find out that someone is charging admission to the murder site of their loved one, than is a living relative of one of Madam LaLaurie’s victims. One is a historical site, the other, as of this time, isn’t. I suppose the concept of “too soon” is subjective. This just seems excessive, even for a place like New Orleans. Granted, it yielded a hell of an experience, and a story.

That said, nothing changes the fact that these people are dressing up Zach and Addie’s old bedroom up with creepy dolls as a cash grab. It’s, for lack of a better word, tacky; in extremely poor taste; highly insensitive—but such things aren’t crimes. I do think they could go to further lengths, however, to ensure people aren’t going into the apartment and taking photos like this:

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Why don’t we go to some of the poorer sections of New Orleans and show people where the most recently shot teenager was standing? Take some photos there of your girlfriend lying face down. Or would that be going too far? Where do we draw the line?

I’m not the only one who finds this uncomfortable. I’ve reached out to other tour guides in the area, none of them approve of this (and oddly enough, all of them were friends with Zach and Addie, go figure). There have been articles published speaking out against the “museum.”

Unlike the 19th century figures LaLaurie and Laveau, the couple has numerous surviving friends and relatives who, nearly 12 years later, have not gotten over how the lives of Bowen and Hall ended.

“It’s pretty despicable and atrociously exploitative,” said Capricho DeVellas, who was close to Hall and Bowen and described their deaths as “genuinely a troubling chapter in my life.”

But the company’s owner, Mary Millan, bristles at the notion that she is disrespecting the couple’s memories.

She said her company has been organizing an upcoming festival whose proceeds will partially be donated to the New Orleans Family Justice Center’s efforts to combat domestic violence. Hall was one of the main reasons for that, she said.

(Source: https://www.nola.com/news/article_c3ce800a-d335-5dc2-a310-1499c634a5cb.html)

You’ll note, on the Haunted Museum’s official website (https://bloodymarystours.com/new-orleans-haunted-museum/), they don’t advertise Zach and Addie’s apartment being part of the tour. Seems like this would be a hell of a selling point. In our interview, Mary cited this as proof that she’s not exploiting anyone, but I wonder if it might be proof that she’s not keen on being so out in the open about what she’s doing. A huge part of me wanted to keep the name of this location out of my reports completely. I don’t want to give these people anymore potential business, but it’s not difficult information to find. A quick Google search will lead anyone with half a brain right to this place, so why bother? Honestly, to omit it would make it seem like some kind of forbidden fruit. I’ll just state my personal stance is to not give any more of my money to said location, and I can’t recommend this place to any of our readers. That’s up to you, though. I can certainly see how it would be tempting to go check this place out. In the end, you’ll have to decide for yourself if you think Bloody Mary’s Haunted Museum is something you wish to support, should you find yourself in New Orleans at some point.

Conclusions

In the end, my main goal is to piece Addie’s history together and find out if there are any details in this case we are unaware of. My gut tells me there are. I’m curious as to how Margaret Sanchez may (or may not) fit into all this, and I’m curious as to whether or not the NOPD was being untruthful about the cannibalism in this case. And if so, why?

  This could take a while, as it’s not my only endeavor going on at the moment, but it’s coming along. No sense rushing. I’d rather take years and get it exactly right than hurry and do a half-assed job. That said, I have plenty of leads. I’m still talking with people, things are coming along nicely. Furthermore, I’m positioned in a great spot to speak with Addie’s friends and relatives, as I live in North Carolina. I’m told she spent a lot of time in Asheville, North Carolina, which is no more than an hour from where I now sit. She may have been born in Pennsylvania (difficult to confirm), but did a lot of growing up in Durham, North Carolina. That’s a little less than three hours from me, but not a bad drive to make on a weekend. 

If anyone reading this has any additional information they wish to share, please feel free to reach out via email. I can be reached at JoshLamiWriter@gmail.com. Please refrain from sending any harassing letters, if you can help it.

That’s it for issue 03 of the Obscura blog. That’s it for my Zach and Addie coverage—for now. I’ll get back to it when I have more to tell.

Starting now, I’ll be accepting your requests for true crime stories to cover on this blog, so feel free to reach out with any suggestions at the above email. If your suggestion is used, I’ll contact you first and, if you like, credit you right here on Obscura.

Thanks for reading, and as always… keep the fire burning.

Issue 02: Coming Down In New Orleans, Louisiana Part 0I

Shining a light on the darkest corners of the Zach and Addie story

Writer: Josh Lami

You already know this story, at least… the surface details, right?

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If not, listen to our episode of Obscura detailing the tragedy of Zach and Addie.  It puts Romeo and Juliet to endless shame. When I first applied as a writer at Obscura in January of this year, I naturally visited the website to familiarize myself with the show. At the time, the most recent episode was on Zach and Addie. I don’t really believe in “signs,” so to speak, but seeing those two as Obscura’s then-current subject sure as hell made it feel like the universe was saying “Josh, this is where you’re supposed to be.” See, what only a handful of people knew, was that for nearly six months—since June of 2018, to be exact—I had been doing some investigative journalism, independently, on Zach and Addie for reasons we’ll get to soon enough. When I came to Obscura I was beyond familiar with the case. Moreover, it was a significant part of my life.

 Prior to joining the Obscura team I was working as a news writer for a number of news and entertainment outlets, many of which I’m legally bound from publicly naming due to non-disclosure agreements. My press credentials were an asset in helping secure resources and land interviews for my Zach and Addie investigation, but I’ve parted ways with the world of mainstream news writing. It’s just not a world I wish to be part of. Since being a news writer, quitting, and joining Obscura, I have to say, as a journalist I’ve found absolutely no difference in in terms of difficulty when it comes to obtaining whatever information I may be seeking at a given moment. It doesn’t matter who you’re writing for, journalism is journalism. It’s not for lazy people, it’s a lot of back and forth, a lot of dead ends, and fighting tooth and nail for the truth. Simply put, investigative journalism is fucking hard.

Initially I planned to write a novel or maybe even make a documentary about the Zach and Addie case, but once Justin and I discussed the idea of doing a blog for Obscura, I knew right then, my report (or series of reports) had found a home. There’s no better platform than right here. My only regret in my time with Obscura was the fact that the Zach and Addie case had already been covered before I arrived. Now I can remedy that. 

As I descended into the abyssal pit that is this story, something bad happened; I got too close. It strikes me as corny to say that aloud, but it’s the truth. I became so entrenched in the tangled web of complexity that is the Zach and Addie case I started feeling, for lack of a better word, haunted by it. I started carrying this inexplicable profound sense of regret, baseless guilt, and outright depression, and I was feeling it at every waking moment. Honestly, I thought maybe I was losing it. My girlfriend, Autumn McKinney, was helping me out a bit with this investigation, so I’m naming her to make sure she gets due credit. Also assisting me was someone who is nothing short of a best friend, a fella by the name of Scott Fleeman. He also deserves some recognition. Both of them were noticing how much of a toll this case was taking on me. Both advised me to walk away for a bit. I listened. Wise decision on my part. At the center of Zach and Addie’s story are matters most people take quite personally. Things like mental illness, abuse, rape, exploitation, lies, domestic violence, and suicide. It stands to reason that I’d also take these things to heart, being so surrounded by it, every minute of every day. Still, despite my sensitivities, there was work to be done. After my initial hiatus, the new approach was to take long sanity breaks and come back to Zach and Addie sporadically, when I deemed myself fit. So far I’ve been working on this investigation for a little over a year. I still have a long way to go, but I’m in no rush. These things take time. 

There was never any hope of keeping personal politics or my emotional shortcomings from influencing a report about Zach and Addie. I’m emotionally attached to the case and my writing will reflect it. Since I’m stating this up front, I can move forward with no ethical concerns. 

So why investigate an already-solved murder? It’s difficult to say. Something about it has always seemed off. I think it seems off to a lot of people. It’s a case that is magnetic to most who hear it, but it’s hard to put your finger on why it’s so engrossing. I hypothesize the infatuation is due to a subconscious knowing that some level of fuckery is afoot in the Zach and Addie case.

 To preface everything which follows: I’m not a detective. I’m not a police officer, I’m not a federal agent, I’m not employed by any form of law enforcement or branch of the military. I’m a writer, a journalist, a researcher, an artist, and a dozen or so other titles that don’t come with a set base salary. People hear that and probably assume I’m a liberal and/or a heavy drinker. They’re correct, not in the case of ‘or,’ but in the case of ‘and.’ So it’s on the table. I’m a lefty (not just politically, but left-handed as well), I’m not a cop, and I like to drink. 

Conflicts of interest? None I can think of. Perhaps my own emotions.

Specialized training? None. Not even an associate’s degree. I’m a high school graduate and a little surprised I managed that. Some people get degrees in journalism and end up being restaurant managers. Some don’t even go to college and end up being journalists. If my lack of college education is a problem for you, you’re not alone, but just for the record, it has never been a problem for me. Taking the route of autodidactism was a personal decision and one I have never regretted. 

Do I ever drink on the job? I don’t know a writer who doesn’t indulge sometimes while drafting a piece. If we’d have wanted a job that didn’t allow drinking, we’d have been accountants. 

Do I plan to politicize this case? 

It was 2006 when Zach Bowen leapt from the balcony of the New Orleans Omni hotel to his death in the street below. This was during George W. Bush’s second term. Zach had fought in Bush and Cheney’s widely loathed Iraq war. Zach came home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result. Later, he murdered, dismembered, and cooked the body of his girlfriend, Addie Hall, on a stove-top, in their kitchen. This case was politicized years before I came along. Uncle Sam has been converting our fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, life-partners, and boyfriends into traumatized killers for quite a while. Is mentioning that politicization? Fake news? No, it’s a fact. Does reminding people of facts sometimes piss them off? Yes. Especially when those facts point to a glaring crisis that has plagued our nation since its inception. I don’t even come close to absolving Zach for what he did. It was wrong. But that doesn’t negate the fact that we send people like him to other countries, force them to endure unimaginable horror in wars that are based on abject lies, then ignore these traumatized soldiers upon their return. Then we somehow have the audacity to express shock when one of these people goes off the deep end. What did we expect? Trauma isn’t some excuse to get out of going to work, it’s a crippling affliction affecting millions of people.  

Fortunately, as of late, we’ve gone mad with de-stigmatizing mental illness in this country. It’s about time. I wonder if either Zach or Addie would have fared better today. In the era of Donald J. Trump’s occupation of the Oval Office, folks on my side of the political spectrum resist the buffoonery of this quasi-dictatorial administration by way of exhibiting fierce, radical inclusivity. Those spreading toxicity are generally the only ones excluded from the group. Ironically, trauma peddlers like Louis C.K.—a man I used to call a hero—cry victimization, and no one listens. I use Louis as an example specifically because his recent modis operandi is to lambaste the younger generation he now feels so rejected by. A generation who no doubt sees me as old and out of touch as well, but I don’t share Louis’ bitterness. Kids today are perpetually celebrating the very diversity lamented by that fear-stricken vocal minority identified by their red hats and MAGA bumper stickers. This generation stands up and supports their fellow citizens struggling with mental illnesses, gives them room and encouragement to talk about their problems, rather than telling them to shut up deal with it. 

Now that’s a protest.

 If you’re fighting for a cause which stands in opposition to mass compassion, you’re fighting for a gruesome cause indeed. I hope this current trend of opening up continues and I hope it results in fewer cases like the one involving Zach and Addie. The powers that be say ‘build a wall, keep ‘em out, be a man, act like a lady, shoot to kill, keep your mouth shut, and do your job.’ People have obeyed for too long, and as a result, we have rampant mass shootings, police brutality, systemic racism and sexism, a suicide epidemic, and tragic stories like the one of Zach and Addie. Indiscriminate hugs and re-assurances from tomorrow’s leaders are landing like Molotov cocktails at the front door of a dying, but still destructive administration. Make no mistake, you’re living in strange times when acceptance is in direct opposition to leadership. My generation did a lot of name-calling, though significantly less than the generation preceding it. Something older people may never come to terms with is the fact that the kids actually do know better. They always have. In the nineties, being open about depression was gaining acceptability, but telling people you had anxiety still garnered responses of wrinkled brows and hand-waving dismissals. Today you can share your PTSD struggles on Facebook and receive a flurry of loving responses. It’s not my generation, but I sure wish it had been. I’m unsure how Zach and Addie would have liked the conscious collective of 2019, but it seems like most Americans have the luxury of a support net. When you have that, life is exponentially more bearable, even in the worst of times. There are people in this world who believe they have no one. The question of whether it’s a genuine or perceived isolation is irrelevant. If loneliness feels real, its power is unimaginable. On some level, despite their chaotic life, Zach and Addie both believed they at least had each other in this midst of all the madness. After a while, they realized they were wrong. 

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And that is the only reason you know their names.

June 4, 2018

We got to New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) around five o’clock PM on a Monday. Flew in from a tiny airport in Concord, North Carolina by way of some cheap airline I’ve never heard of before or since. If Wal-Mart’s Great Value brand is secretly behind a discount commercial airline, that was it. The tickets were damn-near free, though, so who was I to complain? I was supposed to be interviewing a filmmaker on the set of a movie I had no interest in seeing, but New Orleans is, without question, my favorite iteration of the United States. 

America comes in many forms, but none of them compare to the Big Easy. At my side was a pretty little red head named Autumn. She has been calling me ‘baby’ for a little over ten years and over the course of that decade I’ve become quite fond of her. I suppose that’s called a relationship, though I’ve never been a fan of labels. It was her first time visiting NOLA and probably my tenth. I’d warned her on the airplane ride, but there’s no way to accurately describe the jarring nature of walking out into that infamous New Orleans heat for the first time. No sense belaboring this point, I told myself. Poor girl will figure it out soon enough.

We abandoned the godly air-conditioning of Louis Armstrong International Airport and ventured into the abusive climate of New Orleans. The look on her face said it all. Heat is one thing, but that humidity is vile. Something about the air in that town. Thick, even sticky. You’re not sure if the air is wet or if you’re really that sweaty after being outside for less than a minute. 

 Autumn was wearing a pink romper with pictures of cats all over it. Before we boarded the plane, it looked crisp, vibrant. Her hair was glowing and shiny like always, but after ten minutes outside in NOLA, the romper was drenched in sweat, hanging off her body like some kind of sack she’d found in a dumpster. Her straight hair took on a wavy, frizzled look and lost all semblance of shimmer. After a moment, she resigned to putting it up in a bun and even felt relieved that she wouldn’t have to waste any morning time fixing her hair while we were in town. No point. My clothes were soaked as well, my face shiny with pouring sweat but I’d expected as much, no disappointment on my end. I was just happy to be in the best city in America.

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New Orleans, Louisiana is something everyone should experience before they die. No exceptions. If you’ve never been, go. If you are already as drawn to it as I am, cheers. And if you have visited, deemed it an insipid fuckpen of squalor, and vowed never to return, I find myself somehow impressed by your resolve, yet sickened by your existence; boorish marmot.

I’d been awake for over thirty hours and the first thing we did after landing was go to our AirBnB. Right off the bat, we’d made a poor decision. Autumn noticed the a/c was quite lax in this unclean basement apartment. Also a number of bedbugs were present. It was in a pretty rough area, the Uber driver told us this was a section of town he liked to avoid and seemed to be chastising us a for calling him out there. I took some photos of the neighborhood. It was in a bit of disrepair but I never felt threatened.

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We found a tourist-y hotel in the Quarter and shacked up there, unpacked, and walked around for a bit. I showed Autumn Jackson Square. Some of the local dunks accosted us, numerous people tried run scams, and it was hotter than sixty shades of hell. This was a typical visit, but Autumn was beginning to wonder why I loved this place so much. After an hour or so, sleep deprivation broke me and a waking delirium said we needed to head back to our hotel so I could sleep. 

Lying in bed, Autumn remarked that the town had an unmistakable dark vibe about it, a perpetual sense of danger was giving her a feeling of dread, but for no discernible reason. I felt the same. Not just then, but every time I’d visited before. Always on guard, a feeling of being watched, and an unwavering distrust of every person I encountered. To answer the question I knew she was pondering—why do I love this city? 

“Because here, I can’t zone out and let life pass me by. I have to stay vigilant. When I’m back home working, I’m just biding my time until something interesting happens, which is sporadic at best. Here, my days aren’t uneventful. That sort of thing doesn’t exist in Crescent City. I can’t swear to it, but I think this might be what it feels like to be alive.” 

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June 5, 2018: Meeting Zach and Addie

It was morning, Autumn and I were sitting at Café du Monde, a famous, but overrrated establishment if you ask me. Even so, Autumn was entitled to experience some of the commoner stuff, New Orleans virgin that she was. As we stuffed our faces with beignets, I nudged Autumn and pointed to an interesting scene that the rest of this packed restaurant seemed oblivious to. Workers were busy running around, shuffling from one table to the other, well-to-do tourists were devouring glorified funnel cakes, and no one seemed to notice a homeless gentleman in a heroin nod, seeming almost like wall decor in this iconic New Orleans eatery. Autumn gasped, I smirked and said “Welcome to New Orleans.” Is there any city in the United States that better exemplifies the wealth inequality in this fucking country?

Autumn and I left Café du Monde, took a cemetery tour and found a deal on Groupon for something called a “Haunted Museum.” This was something I’d never heard of, but tickets were around ten dollars each, so I couldn’t think of a reason to pass up the offering. As we began making our way to this place, the sky began pissing on our heads, as if to say, “go find something else to do.” If the sky was talking, we weren’t listening. A solid rainstorm became an all-out downpour, but even still, we hoofed it from St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 to this vague attraction located at 826 North Rampart Street. 

From the outside, it didn’t resemble a museum. It looked more like a rundown mom and pop business of some sort, but we were definitely in the right spot because there was a sign reading “Bloody Mary’s New Orleans Haunted Museum” hanging over the sidewalk. Inside, it looked even less like a museum. Actually, what it looked like was a gift shop, because that’s exactly what it was. We were informed that the “tour” would start in about fifteen minutes, so we perused this strange gift shop for a bit, trying to dry off. 

 

While looking at goofy merchandise, designed to appeal to tourists in search of a “unique” souvenir, I noticed a hallway. It was narrow, contained some kind of voodoo alter, and at its end was a white door I immediately regarded as foreboding. Why I found this door so unsettling, I’m unsure, but something about it just didn’t sit well with me. 

View of hallway from gift shop

View of hallway from gift shop

Finally, it was time for the tour. A young guy by the name of Jagger gathered the group together. This group consisted of Autumn, myself, a guy probably around my age (I’m 34), and two other women who seemed to be experiencing as much confusion as I was. Jagger began walking toward that horrible door, foretoken of a looming repugnance I have yet to escape. 

I doubt I ever will.

My least favorite door in the world.

My least favorite door in the world.

This door opened up to a courtyard, in which, you could see the back entrance of a number of French Quarter homes. Jagger stood there babbling about who used to live in some of the aforementioned apartments, then led us around a corner to the apartment so integral to this haunted museum. Once we entered the back door of the “haunted museum” something happened. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in an afterlife, heaven, hell, hauntings, poltergeists, psychics, clairvoyants… I’m as firm a skeptic on any kind of mysticism as you’re likely to find. Completely non-religious, and not likely to change my stance on that. To me, looking at “haunted” locations or taking vampire tours is purely about entertainment. It’s fun to think about, but the thought of actually believing in such a thing is a foreign concept to me. Now, if you’re a believer in such things, I’m not here to belittle you. I’m completely disinterested in berating someone for being religious. If you’re happy, I’m happy for you, but personally, a church of any kind is just not my scene. I tell you this because what I’m about to say sounds like bullshit. At least, it would sound like bullshit to me, had I not been the one who experienced it.   

We walked through a doorway into the lower level of an old apartment. To our left was a staircase, which made a turn and stopped at another door. As soon as I saw this staircase, I felt dizzy, grief-stricken, scared, sad, and like everything in the world that could go wrong just did. Every fiber of my being was screaming at me to stay the hell away from those stairs. Later, I found out Autumn felt the same way. I tried distracting myself from what felt like an oncoming panic attack by looking around at the wall decor and taking pictures. As luck would have it, one of the photos captured the look on Autumn’s face as she was observing this horrible fucking staircase. 

I live with this person, so I know this look, and I can confirm that what she’s expressing is “fuck everything about this.”

I live with this person, so I know this look, and I can confirm that what she’s expressing is “fuck everything about this.”

And of course, Jagger instructed us to ascend a staircase that seemed to have the qualities of the Dementors in a Harry Potter book, because what kind of story would this be if he didn’t? We climbed the stairs and my feelings of distress only worsened as we reached the top.

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Jagger opened the door and we entered a blue room that looked like a residential living room. Haunted museum? Not so much. We were actually standing at the site of one of New Orleans’ most heinous crimes. This was Zach and Addie’s home. This is where he strangled her, where he dismembered her, and where he cooked her. Jagger told us the whole story in great detail while I sat in a chair feeling completely disconnected from myself. I just felt strange. There’s no other way to put it, other than to say, this place had bad energy, and I’m not someone who ever uses phrases like ‘bad energy.’ The weirdest part was, I lost time while we were in the apartment. As we walked down the stairs I started feeling more like myself, not quite so terrible, and then it hit me that I couldn’t really remember what all was being said or what I was doing while in that living room. 

Again, Autumn had a similar experience. She said she felt like she was in some kind of hypnotic trance and the tour guide’s words seemed like background noise, at best. One of the things I do recall is Jagger pointing to an electric range and informing the group that this was indeed the stove Addie Hall was cooked in. Then he pointed to a refrigerator and said “that’s where he stored her dismembered body.” As if charging admission to see such a thing wasn’t tasteless and exploitative enough, the owners of this murder site also dressed Zach and Addie’s old bedroom up with creepy dolls for theatrical effect. 

People can feel how they want about this operation, but personally, I found it sickening. I’d never have given money to someone exploiting this tragedy if I’d known what was going on, but this wasn’t advertised. In any case, the time to skip this ghoulish attraction had come and gone. I was past the point of no return, so I did take some photos inside the apartment. 

After showing us that little corner of hell, Jagger showed us the rest of the “haunted museum.” Mostly it was a bunch of crap like skulls in jars, dolls they swore were haunted, but weren’t, weird taxidermy. I didn’t really care enough to pay attention because all I could think about was the fucking horrific murder site this person had just surprised me and my girlfriend with. If you’re going to show me a skull in a jar, show it to me before you take me to the site of the heinous murder you’re profiting from. It’s something of a tough act to follow. 

Autumn and I walked back to the hotel in veritable silence. What do you say after something like that? Being in that apartment brought a feeling of near-intoxication, but whatever we’d been drunk on, we were now coming down and we were coming down hard. It took a good solid 3-4 hours before it really hit us, this nightmare we’d just experienced. Maybe some people are unaffected, hell maybe most of them are. We weren’t. We were mortified, upset, angry, but also curious. Perhaps I’m just sensitive. We’d left Zach and Addie’s home in the physical sense, but our hearts and minds were still very much in that living room. Later that night we sat in on the bed reading everything we could about Zach and Addie. It’s a strange case because there’s a ton of information readily available, but there’s also glaring questions surrounding it, and getting to the answers is nothing short of an ordeal. There were too many discrepancies for me, too many odd coincidences. When I left New Orleans a few days later, I came back home and immediately started doing a ton of research. I reached out to all kinds of people, including Bloody Mary, aka Mary Millan, the owner of Zach and Addie’s previous address.

This is a two-part blog post, and for part two, we’re going to delve into some of the unsettling facts surrounding this case, some of the odd coincidences no one really talks about, and the possibility that police aren’t being entirely truthful about what actually happened in that apartment. 

Thank you for reading, and as always, keep the fire burning.

Issue 01: Fresh Facts for Rotting Cases

A new venture for Obscura begins with some strange details about two familiar atrocities.

Writer: Josh Lami

Welcome reader, I’m glad you’re here.

About half a year ago, I began working for Obscura as a writer and researcher. Justin hired me to pen some of the scripts for this ever-expanding true crime podcast. I wasn’t the show’s only writer, mind you, but I was here to help carry the load and increase the output for our loyal listeners. I didn’t know what to expect. This was far from my first writing job, but Obscura was my first professional venture into the curious world that is true crime. As a freelancer, you hear a spiel from every editor-in-chief, every blog-runner, every show creator about how their platform is “different.” How you, the writer, are going to be an integral part of helping this person create something huge. How, together, we are going to change the whole landscape of X industry. They’re not lying, they’re just not as committed to innovation at they believe themselves to be. Their sights are set on a level of success most will never attain without some serious vision. Writing for news sites, entertainment outlets, blogs, authors who want their books ghostwritten, or even publishing companies can be frustrating if you’re the creative type, because often, the people for whom you’re writing are not interested in a novel approach; they want tried and true. Instead of taking risks and experimenting, they look to others in their field who have been successful and try to mimic those methods. Sometimes it works, but usually not.

I’ve written millions of words and I’ve yet to work with a copycat who ended up breaking into major success, but it could still happen.  As a writer, once you’ve been in the game for half an hour, being told by a client to follow convention is what you’ll come to expect. Frankly, it’s discouraging. After a while, I got depressed and wondered why I started writing in the first place. This wasn’t something I needed to meditate on, the answer was glaring and had always been; I wanted to create. Hitting word counts for vapid writing projects while making a tenth of what I should have been was never part of my aspirations as a writer. Godspeed if you’re into that sort of thing.

So I did what many freelance writers tell you not to do, I said no to any project that felt like work. If I wanted to make a living doing something I hated, there were easier, more lucrative, and certainly more stable gigs to consider. Since then I only take the gigs I’m passionate about. Obscura was far outside my comfort zone, but I was up to the challenge.

 

Oh, the places I’ve been since January of 2019.

I’ve contributed scripts for around nine episodes, which is honestly a drop in the bucket, yet I already feel like I’ve been to hell and back. One thing I hear from time to time is that I have a “unique voice.” The first time someone says it about your writing, it’s flattering. It might even go to your head, but such words will wear thin in rapid fashion. Because as unique as a writer’s voice may or may not be, most editors or producers will look on in horror if you actually try to use it.

Obscura has been an entirely different experience. Justin never discourages me from going outside the boundaries of convention and he doesn’t just look to other true crime podcasts as a template for what his show ought to be. As a result, he’s developed something that is not only unique, but growing at a staggering rate. Most every other writing job I take, I’m working with a client, but Justin Drown isn’t a client, he’s a partner. Furthermore, Obscura isn’t just a job, it’s a passion. Not every risk I’ve taken in writing for the show has paid off, in fact a few have been downright bad ideas, but plenty have resonated beautifully. It’s called a creative process and I’m happy to say, at Obscura, we actually have one of those.

A new venture

Recently, Justin hired more writers for the main episodes and he approached me about starting a blog for the site. Something where we could explore more of the minutia, delve into more than one case per sitting, and really just do whatever we want within the realm of true crime, while giving our wonderful audience more of the macabre to digest. I loved the idea. Writing for the podcast has been great and I’m sure I’ll contribute some future episodes, but here on the page is where I shine best and I believe Justin has noticed that and—being a smart fella—wants to utilize my best strengths. Or maybe I’m reading too much into this, hard telling. I could belabor the motives of Obscura’s founder or I can focus on the important thing… we’re here.

Here, we can go in a number of directions. We can ask more questions, delve into speculation, entertain the notions of hair-brained conspiracy theories, look at photos and videos, posit alternate explanations, and just do all kinds of things we wouldn’t normally be able to get away with on Obscura’s main podcast. Some posts will be serious, some humorous, we can talk about murder or, if we so choose, look at other types of crimes. Hell, we can even revisit cases from older episodes and discuss what we might have missed, or even talk about behind the scenes information listeners weren’t privy to. The possibilities are endless and we’re all pretty excited. Furthermore, this is a better place for you to make suggestions about subject matter. That’s right, I’m going to read your request and suggestions for future blog material and the best submissions will appear in the official Obscura true crime blog. Not for every entry, but some.

That said, let’s start this off simple and look at the lesser-known asides from some true crime cases you’ve more-than-likely heard about. Nothing irks me more than seeing a clickbait headline such as: “10 Amazing Horror Movie’s You’ve Definitely Never Seen” as a precursor to a list of ten mediocre horror movies I’ve seen five or more times each. How do you know which movies I have or haven’t seen? With that thought in mind, I won’t presume to know what you, reader, have or have not read about the cases mentioned in today’s blog entry. You may-well be a full-on walking encyclopedia of true crime knowledge. I’ll just say the information we’re discussing today is likely to be a revelation to many.

 

Now, hop in. We’re going to California.

  

A Homicide Detective Named Steve Hodel Believes His Father Is Both the Black Dahlia Murderer and the Zodiac Killer

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Read that again, if it makes you feel any better, but you read correctly. The Black Dahlia Murderer and the Zodiac Killer. Both. George Hodel—Steve Hodel’s father—was also allegedly responsible for a number of other murders, completely unrelated to Black Dahlia or Zodiac.

It should be prefaced that the veracity of Steve Hodel’s claim that his father was the Zodiac Killer is, to say the least, questionable. It’s a far-fetched theory, unlikely to be true, though not implausible. Compelling if for no other reason than the fact that it’s a notion proposed by a bona-fide homicide detective who works for the Los Angeles Police Department. Then again, does an LAPD detective’s endorsement of such an unlikely scenario really lend credence to the possibility? Or does it speak more about the competence of law enforcement detectives in California? You can decide for yourself on that one. The big question on most people’s minds is how this theory it compares, in terms of likelihood, to claims that Ted Cruz could be the Zodiac Killer.

All I can think is that it’s definitely more plausible than a dream I had where my grandmother was trying to convince me that Bill Clinton’s father was the Greasy Strangler.

Now there is some genuine connection to Steve Hodel’s father, George, and the Black Dahlia. George Hodel was actually a suspect in the Black Dahlia murder. He was acquitted, but many believe he shouldn’t have been, especially George’s son. There were microphones placed in George Hodel’s apartment during the Black Dahlia investigation, reviewed by police and found to contain disturbing content.

Here are some selected excerpts:

 

“Realize there was nothing I could do, put a pillow over her head and cover her with a blanket. Get a taxi. Expired 12:59. They thought there was something fishy. Anyway, now they may have figured it out. Killed her.”

“Supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary anymore because she’s dead.”

 

Here’s some food for thought: I’m not the Black Dahlia murderer and I know this for sure. Hell, I couldn’t be without a time machine. As one of the billions of people on Earth who didn’t commit the Black Dahlia murder, I think we can all agree that the thought of saying the words: “supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia,” while going on to point out the fact that the cops sure can’t prove it, in presumed privacy, is a highly unlikely scenario. Not that doing so necessarily makes one guilty; it just seems like such an easy thing to never say. Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps he was rehearsing for a play.

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George Hodel was, as can be imagined, a suspect in the murder of his secretary. He was also accused of raping his daughter. However, he was convicted of neither crime. Posited at the time was a rumor that Hodel’s secretary was blackmailing him because she had damning information of patient mistreatment and misdiagnoses. This as a means to bill people for unnecessary medical expenses and then pocket the money. Elizabeth Short, AKA the Black Dahlia, was allegedly one of those patients. When investigated, it was discovered George Hodel possessed nude photos of Elizabeth Short. It certainly sounds like, on paper, Hodel could very well have been the guy, but that’s never been proven in a courtroom. Officially, like Zodiac, the Black Dahlia case remains unsolved. Some take Steven Hodel’s postulations as concrete evidence that the case is solved. Others have said it’s a laughable notion to even consider Hodel might as the Black Dahlia murderer.

            Steve Hodel runs a website (https://www.stevehodel.com) where he still updates evidence he says links George Hodel to the Black Dahlia murder. He has also written a number of books on the subject.

            As for being the Zodiac Killer, that’s harder to swallow. George Hodel apparently lived in the Philippines between 1950 and 1990, so most researchers don’t consider him a possible suspect, as he would have been outside the country during the Zodiac murders. Granted, he could have been making trips back and forth under a false identity.

            Steve claims the evidence against his father in the Zodiac case is all but iron clad, though mostly it’s based on handwriting analyses and Zodiac’s “radian.” That is to say, the area of California where Zodiac did his business intersects with where the Black Dahlia was discovered, and thus, links George Hodel to the Zodiac Killer. When I think about the phrase “grasping at straws,” this is the kind of shit that comes to mind. Still, just the suggestion makes one wonder if Steve is right. Such theories may never be provable. Hell they might even be debunked (https://zodiackillerfacts.com/zodiac-theories/the-accused-the-accusers/george-hodel-most-evil/steve-hodel-most-evil-debunked/), but thinking about it and wondering ‘what if?’ never ceases to be a fun thought exercise.

It’s the mark of an intelligent person to consider another point of view without necessarily accepting it as fact. Steve’s assertions about his father’s involvement with the Black Dahlia murder seem to be in earnest, even if misguided. His Zodiac theory, on the other hand, sure seem like an incredibly marketable angle to sell more books.

Henry Lee Lucas May Not Have Been A Legitimate Serial Killer, As His Unknown Number of Victims Falls Somewhere Between 3 and 3,000.

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For the podcast, we usually avoid especially famous crimes. Hence the name “Obscura.” That’s the best approach, because who wants to hear the same cases repeatedly? Even still, sometimes true crime writers have pet cases they wish they could delve into from a different angle. Thankfully, we now have a blog where we can do exactly that. Henry Lee Lucas or the aforementioned Black Dahlia murderer, for example.

When people ask what I do for a living, I never tell them I’m a project analyst for an IT company, because that sounds boring (and for the record, yes, it is extremely boring). I always just say I’m a freelance writer. It’s not a lie, because I do that for a living too, it’s just not my sole source of income. When I came to Obscura, I changed my answer. Now I just say “I’m a true crime writer.” Still not technically a lie. Now ‘true crime writer’ is a job that sounds cool (and for the record, yes, it’s extremely cool). After I reveal my ultra-cool line of work, eyes widen and people often say something like “wow I’ll bet you’ve seen some crazy shit.” Yes, yes I’ve see things that would leave most people in the floor, curled up in the fetal position, calling out to whichever God they believe in. But that was true long before I came to Obscura. What can I say? My twenties got a little wild.

Their first question is always “who is your favorite serial killer.” I so despise this question, because like most reasonable people, I don’t have a favorite serial killer. I hope no one does. Serial killers are interesting to try to understand, to learn about and to study, but they’re not people to be revered. They’re violent people who end the lives of the innocent and ruin the lives of a victim’s friends and family. Fuck every single serial killer that ever walked the earth. Being something of a smart ass, I usually give a response to the tune of “um… I don’t really like any of them.”

After I give mister tactless a moment to rephrase his question to something a little less mortifying, like “Well which serial killer do you find the most interesting?” my answer is always Henry Lee Lucas. Something about his status as a drifter, his relationship with Ottis Toole, and that thing on his upper lip resembling one of those novelty mustaches from Dollar Tree just creeps me right the hell out. More interesting than even the mustache is his number of victims. Convicted of nine murders, officially, authorities confirmed Lucas had committed more than 200 murders shortly after his apprehension. Personally, I find that number suspiciously high for one human being, short of a military official who has spent their life fighting on battlefields, but I suppose it’s possible. Still, to pull off 200-something murders (the official number isn’t hard to find, it just flat out doesn’t exist) you’d have to be extremely intelligent. Cunning, stealthy, unassuming, charming… Ted Bundy was all of those things and even he couldn’t clear the double digits. Thing is, Henry Lee Lucas wasn’t what you’d call a bright fellow. In fact his IQ was reportedly below average and may have even been as low as 76. For comparison, Forrest Gump had an IQ of 75. Granted, Forrest was a fictional character, but I’m not bringing up Andy Warhol. His crimes against art are too heinous for Obscura. Ted Bundy, on the other hand, reportedly had an IQ of 136, while Jeffery Dahmer was sitting around 145. This isn’t to suggest that IQ is the epitome of what determines a person’s potential. I know many people with brilliant minds who are total under-achievers, and likewise, people with low IQs that have been successful. Having said that, there’s a reason organizations like the FBI screen for intelligence.

While two-hundred or more victims might be hard to swallow, his later claims were downright ludicrous. After his initial confessions, authorities from other states started questioning him about other murders and he confessed to virtually all of them. In the end he'd confessed to something like three thousand murders. At this point, you could make an argument that he was committing genocide in America. Thing is, he was full of shit. It goes without saying he didn't kill thousands of people, but he didn't even kill the initial two-hundred. Get this; even the nine he was convicted of murdering was inaccurate. One victim included on the list of people Lucas was convicted of murdering—an unidentified person often referred to in the media as "Orange Socks”—was not killed by Henry Lee Lucas at all. Authorities confirmed this after Lucas' conviction.

Henry Lee Lucas was given the death penalty, but that sentence was later commuted to life in prison. In Lucas' later years he stated that he'd actually only murdered three people, one of which was his mother. Not that we can take Henry's word for it, it seems he's quite the fibber, but what's perhaps most interesting is why so many murders were pinned on him in the first place. We already know that he was getting special treatment while in jail for providing confessions. Every time he gave detectives another statement of confession, he'd swindle another favor. That's typical in our... less than perfect Unites States Justice system. What many people don't know is why any of these detectives would believe them in the presence of obvious contradictory evidence. There were mountains of it. Little things like Henry being in a completely different state at the time of the murder to which he was confessing.

It turns out, the police weren't gullible or incompetent, they were opportunistic. See, at any given time, in any given police department, there are piles of unsolved murder cases. These departments are always under pressure to close said cases. In the end, Henry Lee Lucas' honesty wasn't the point. The point was to pacify higher ups by closing as many cases as possible. Word got out that Lucas was a goldmine of confessions. The cheat-code police departments had been waiting for to close cases without having to do any real investigating. News crossed state lines and everyone wanted in on that action. Henry Lee Lucas' status as a drifter who had traveled to many states made his involvement plausible. In some cases, Lucas received incriminating evidence from open murder cases to use during a confession, thus lending more credibility to his confessions.

The first time I heard this, it sounded like a bold claim. Outlandish. Maybe even like a conspiracy theory. I was naive, because this aspect of the Lucas case isn't the work of some hack journalist writing for a gossip column, it was confirmed in The Lucas Report (https://lrl.texas.gov/scanned/archive/2009/8145.pdf) by Attorney General Jim Mattox. In the report, he stated:

"We have found information that would lead us to believe that some officials 'cleared cases' just to get them off the books”

Such a staggering display of behavior, transcending unethical and veering right into abject corruption by not just one, but numerous police departments, should be more troubling to the general public than it is. Henry Lee Lucas wasn’t special. Any reasonable person reading the report has to know such disregard for truth and justice isn’t exclusive to the Lucas case. If you have doubts, go talk to the West Memphis Three, they have stories to tell. The “bad apples” argument doesn’t work in the case of Henry Lee Lucas’ exploited confessions. In fact, it suggests systemic problem and brings about a litany of questions regarding trustworthiness of law enforcement and the justice system general. Granted, perspectives vary from person to person, but for me, instances of corruption like this have led me to the conclusion that N.W.A.’s 1988 reporting of problematic law enforcement hit the nail on the head.

Though Considered One of History’s Most Horrifying Serial Killers, Albert Fish’s Crimes Were Worse than Most People Realize

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At this point, it seems like everyone already knows about the letter Albert Fish sent to the parents of one of his victims. If not, here's the cliff's notes:

 Albert Fish came to their farmhouse seeming well intentioned enough. He did some work for the family and then offered to take their young daughter to a birthday party. I can't imagine why, but for one reason or another, they didn't think that sounded like the worst idea of all time, and said yes. Needless to say, her parents never saw or heard from their daughter again, because Albert Fish murdered, cooked, and ate her. They did, however, hear from Albert again, and he wasn't speaking in a courtroom.

 Because murdering and eating a child wasn't evil enough for Albert, he decided to ice that cake of horror by mailing a letter to the parents, detailing exactly what he'd done. Here is an excerpt from a transcript of that letter: (https://murderpedia.org/male.F/f/fish-albert.htm)

“On Sunday June the 3 --1928 I called on you at 406 W 15 St. Brought you pot cheese -- strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat in my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her. On the pretense of taking her to a party. You said Yes she could go. I took her to an empty house in Westchester I had already picked out. When we got there, I told her to remain outside. She picked wildflowers. I went upstairs and stripped all my clothes off. I knew if I did not I would get her blood on them. When all was ready I went to the window and called her. Then I hid in a closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked she began to cry and tried to run down the stairs. I grabbed her and she said she would tell her mamma. First I stripped her naked. How she did kick -- bite and scratch. I choked her to death, then cut her in small pieces so I could take my meat to my rooms. Cook and eat it. How sweet and tender her little ass was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body. I did not fuck her tho I could of had I wished. She died a virgin.”

             Can it really get anymore depraved than… whatever the hell that was? I’m afraid so. See, either the collection of needles in his groin or the above letter are usually what people bring up when discussing Albert Fish, but these details represent a small fraction of his depravity. He was convicted of three murders, but suspected of nearly one-hundred. For today’s entry, we’re going to look at what he did to a little boy named Billy Gaffney.

After kidnapping him, Fish took him to an abandoned house, stripped him naked, tied him up and burned the child’s clothing. According to Fish, Billy was gagged with a dirty rag he’d found in a dumpster. After that, Fish left. Yes, that’s right, Albert Fish tied this child up, left, and took a trolley back home. The next day he came back around two o’clock with a makeshift cat of nine tails, which he had fashioned out of a couple of belts and a short wooden handle. Then he whipped Billy Gaffney’s bare bottom mercilessly and relentlessly. According to his own confession:

“I whipped his bare behind till the blood ran from his legs”

          After that, he cut the child’s nose and ears off, slit his mouth from ear to ear, and gouged out his eyes, finally killing him. Once Billy was dead, Albert cut a hole in his stomach, put his mouth to it, and sucked out the blood. He detailed further cannibalism and dismemberment, confessing to police:

 

 "I picked up four old potato sacks and gathered a pile of stones. Then I cut him up. I had a grip with me. I put his nose, ears and a few slices of his belly in the grip. Then I cut him through the middle of his body. Just below the belly button. Then through his legs about 2 inches below his behind. I put this in my grip with a lot of paper. I cut off the head -- feet -- arms-- hands and the legs below the knee. This I put in sacks weighed with stones, tied the ends and threw them into the pools of slimy water you will see all along the road going to North Beach." I came home with my meat. I had the front of his body I liked best. His monkey and pee wees and a nice little fat behind to roast in the oven and eat. I made a stew out of his ears -- nose -- pieces of his face and belly. I put onions, carrots, turnips, celery, salt and pepper. It was good.”

             Albert Fish is discussed far less often than people like Jeffery Dahmer or Ted Bundy because his crimes are—I personally believe—somehow harder to stomach. We could do an entire blog just on Fish’s atrocities, but the violence is so prevalent and sickening, it would become redundant after about ten minutes of reading. Still, he was absolutely one of America’s worst. One of the few serial killers whose crimes are not only not exaggerated, but rather, downplayed.

            With that, we conclude the first Obscura true crime blog. We hope you enjoyed it, learned something, and maybe even got a chuckle at one point or another. If you liked what you’ve read, you’re in luck, because there’s a lot more to come. Thanks you for reading… and keep the fire burning.

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