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Apr 03

Conversation With a Killer

In Brief—Memories of a conversation the author had with the host of the author’s wedding reception.

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An Invitation Stirs Unpleasant Memories—

No, this was not a scene from my years as a criminal defense lawyer. It took place during and after a joyous celebration that was a part of my tossed salad life.

Single candle R.I.P.I first met Carol at an ACLU meeting in maybe1963. She was a single mother, a lovely, serious young woman who seemed older than her years. We shared an interest in civil liberties and remained friends until her abrupt departure from Los Angeles. Curious about her life in later years, I read that she’s dead now. Carol died in 2001 in Colorado at the age of sixty. Much too young and with a married life that is best forgotten.

But the full story grows out of an invitation I just received. The invitation stirred ghosts of the past.

My former wife will celebrate seven and a half decades of circling the sun later this year and has invited all her friends to join in the celebration. I am happy to say that I am on that list. It’s attributable to the openness and generosity that attracted me all those years ago. I admit that beauty had something to do with it, but my memories are not about invitations.

When Jane and I married, Carol and her new husband, Bert, arranged and hosted our reception in their home. We were surrounded by friends and enjoyed the splendidly catered party presided over by our glowing hostess, Carol, who looked as happy as we had ever seen her. We had stayed in touch with Carol during our courtship and only now met Bert for the first time.

As the party wound down and guests began to depart, Bert and I sat alone and discussed a variety of subjects. At one point, Bert quietly told me that he had violent impulses. I demurred, saying that he seemed too gentle to harbor thoughts of violence. I was to remember that conversation later.

Over the ensuing years, we remained in touch with Carol, but Bert was never present and never mentioned. On one occasion, we asked about Bert’s absence. Carol, not as open as she had been before, told us that he was in Australia. Beyond that, she seemed reluctant to discuss his absence, so we dropped the discussion for fear of its being a sensitive subject. Jane and I eventually concluded that Bert might be in prison. Visits with Carol became infrequent. She withdrew.

One morning as I shaved, the radio newscaster reported that Bert had been seen leaving a young woman’s body in Griffith Park, not far from our apartment. The young woman had been raped and killed. He was now on the run. Jane and I were shocked that this was the Bert we knew.

From this point on, I can only convey what was reported on the news. Bert killed two Arizona Highway patrolmen. He then shot a kindly older couple who had stopped to give him a lift. The man died, but his wife survived her wounds. He fled in their car. He was chased into New Mexico where he found himself trapped in a dead-end side road. When he exited the car, he was reported to be holding a gun. The police killed him in a hail of shots. Rather than holding a gun, Bert had cut off his own hand.

My conversation with Bert looms large now.

We never saw Carol again.

8 comments

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  1. Susan Harris

    Gruesome memories! Sorry that you sat down alone w him ever. 👿

    1. Don Bay

      I’m never sorry for the experience even if it turns out to be unpleasant. Just goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Bert must have been a tortured soul to have hurt so many people. In my search for Carol, I came across newspaper accounts of Bert’s past. To say it was ugly is to understate it. Carol was never mentioned in those accounts.

      I have often wondered about whether Carol knew of Bert’s past. Certainly, when he was “in Australia” she must have known. At that point, it was too late. In any case, she is at peace now. Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Shelley Stockwell-Nicholas, PhD

    What a touching and CHILLING tale.
    Thank you for writing it so well.
    Love
    Shelley

    1. Don Bay

      The piece practically wrote itself. Carol and Bert sprang to mind as soon as I received the invitation to Jane’s birthday party. Another happy occasion was our reception…and my conversation with Bert. As I told Susan, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Bert seemed a sensitive and aware person. Only later did I realize Bert was an aware guy who was twisted inside by something in his past. How many other Berts are being twisted inside by factors American society needs to deal with? The writing just flowed from my memory. Thanks for the strokes. You helped along the way.

  3. Jim Newton

    Violence, and especially violence against women, is rampant worldwide, as you know. And it’s not just being twisted inside. It’s often cultural and seen as normal. We too often talk of monsters and that misses the point. These men are neighbors, people we meet at parties, people in our families. Bert is someone you happened to follow through the news. How many men we come across are violent and we never know?

    1. Don Bay

      You are mostly right. Men are overwhelmingly responsible for violence, but let’s remember that women sometimes commit unprovoked violence against men.

      I ask myself why all this violence, particularly against women? The answer always comes back to religion. As a caveat here, I will say that I’m most familiar with the Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

      The so-called holy books of the religions place women in at least secondary roles. Men are the measure of authority. Their deity approves men’s control over females as well as violence against “others.” That’s not to say non-religious people don’t commit violence. That’s human nature, but if you peel away the layers you’ll always find religion at the core. After all, we grow up in a religious world. The influence is at least subconscious. If God/Jehovah/Allah says it’s okay, then men feel free to commit violence against women…and anybody deemed to be “the enemy.”

      Where you err is in saying my familiarity with Bert was from reading about his crimes. I talked with him at our reception. I later read about his crimes. Other than that, you are right. I appreciate your taking the time to point out to us the crime of violence.

  4. Art Ulene

    You never cease to surprise…..AND DELIGHT. Love to you from Hawaii………… Art

    1. Don Bay

      The conversation was just part of the reception. I was interested in learning more about a person I had just met. Needless to say, we were surprised about Bert. Goes to show we never know about a person’s past. The turns in any life are a surprise. Carol’s the one who paid the price…she and the ones caught in Bert’s web.

      Ah-h, Hawaii. Wonderful memories of the islands, chi-chis, fresh pineapple…I could go on but won’t. I am green with envy. Enjoy!

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