In the fascinating second part of Murder by Increments Australian author OJ Modjeska takes us deeper into the life and times of the 1970s US serial killers known as the Hillside Stranglers. The narrative cleverly reveals how they came to be what they were, how they got away with it for so long, and what happened when they came up against the workings of the US justice system. We meet little Kenny and his unbelievable mother, the many professionals who did nothing about the shocking treatment of the poor little bedwetting boy, his strangely alluring sadist cousin who ran orgies out of his suburban loungeroom, the psychiatrist who believed in “alter” personality Steve, the police who were almost helpless against the workings of the court system, and the women who loved these gruesome men and had children with them. You have to conclude they were all mad.
There are so many issues here: why was Ken’s mother allowed to keep custody of him? What is the rightful power of parents over their helpless children? Is nurture really responsible for the production of violent psychopaths? And how is it that a runaway sixteen year old girl from a “good” family can end up a sex-slave servicing hundreds of clients in an established neighbourhood? Well, part of the answer is obvious once you realize that at least two of them were men in high positions, one a City Councillor and another the Police Chief of Huntington Park. The depths of the barely disguised social depravity at that time and place are hard to fathom.
Then there is a question which is almost unthinkable. Why did so many girls and women LOVE these men? One sixteen year old girl was so crazy about Angelo that she pedalled round to his place on her bicycle after school to watch porn movies and eat popcorn while clients were being serviced by the two sex-slaves in the adjacent room. She told police she loved Angelo and hoped to marry him.
Kelli Boyd, a classy blonde secretary at a place Ken worked, began a relationship with him and became pregnant almost at once. Even knowing what a shit he was, she went ahead with the birth and moved in with him, becoming a mother while Ken continued to go on killing sprees with cousin Angelo. She stayed loyal to him for a very long time even after she knew he was one of the Hillside Stranglers.
Then there is the ambitious psychiatrist who wanted to prove Ken was a “multiple” because it would be good for his career, even though it meant he might be acquitted of the charges, and Katherine Maden, Angelo’s defence attorney, who argued that violent sexual sadism was merely one aspect of a common lifestyle choice found widely in LA at the time, unfortunately in this case going a bit too far.
And how do you account for the thousands of women who sent love letters to the two men while they were in prison, both convicted of these horrendous vicious crimes? Both remarried, their new wives coming to visit them while knowing that they would never get out. Ken became something of a celebrity writer, authoring horror novels in the vein of Lovecraft.
Written in the gripping style Modjeska is so praised for, this second book brings forward many new and unexpected angles on American society in the seventies. It allows the “facts”, such as they were known, to speak for themselves and moves along like an edge-of-the-seat thriller. Anyone interested in gender relations and the justice system will get so much admittedly horrifying insight from these two books. Both are outstanding.