Ten Steps to Better Murder
a short story by BRUCE MURPHY
|Bruce Murphy has recently become a father, Llywelyn is his proudest creation. He is an accomplished storyteller and the author of several short stories, essays, travel writing and poetry and has been published in the UK, France and America. His impressive tome, The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery (Palgrave for St Martin's Minotaur, NY, $24.95) has been taken up by the A&E Network with the view to becoming a series. It is a comprehensive book covering everything criminal from true to fiction, film to book and is a must for all crime readers and film lovers. Read the review at the end of the story.|
Ten Steps to Better Murder
Dear Friends: Here's a story I've been dying to run. In this Eye4anEye.org exclusive, Kathy R. gives ten tips that even old hands can benefit from. --Ed.
1. Know Your Victim. It was torture coming up with a list of only ten tips, believe me. But you can engrave this phrase in stone. Why, when I first decided to kill Buddy, I had to think hard just to remember what he looked like! Take that as an example of how out of touch you can be with the object of your desire.
I had realized that I could never be happy again as long as Buddy was alive. I had escaped from him, but I hadn't really escaped. He'd be inside my head forever unless I knew he was dead. So, I was committed. (If you're wondering why I didn't make that Numero Uno, it's because I figured if you weren't already committed, you wouldn't be reading this).
But commitment is just the tip of the ice pick, so to speak. Knowing you're going to kill someone is a lot different from figuring out how. Although we'd lived together for eight years, and what Buddy had done to me had haunted me in nightmares long after I left him, I'd forgotten all the little habits, all the quirks, all the routines that would be so important in developing my plan. Which brings me to item 2 . . .
2. The Devil's in the Details. A successful murder takes planning. Of course, you don't need to plan if you don't care how many bystanders you take down -you just walk in and open fire. You'll almost certainly have some collateral hits, and you'll probably get caught, but like the Mounties, you'll Get Your Man (or Lady)!
But there's a downside to the "Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out" approach. We could argue forever about whether there are ever really innocent bystanders - I mean, who knows what these people have done in their lives -but it's a sure thing that such carnage upsets the public and the authorities in a big way, and they'll come after you twice as hard. It's like the serial killer thing. Just because you got lazy and didn't vary your technique, they hang that label on you, and pretty soon you've got a troupe of detectives, G-men, and psychological profilers on your tail, and "Stop Him Before He Kills Again" screaming at you from the headlines.
I know, 'cause I been there, folks. After I rubbed out Buddy, it was such a success that I used the technique again on another problem. Boy, was I sorry. It reminds you that . . .
3. Patience is a Virtue. You don't have to kill anybody today. Unless the victim has a terminal illness that threatens to take him/her out of circulation before you do, you can always wait. I learned that the hard way.
I had Buddy all set up. I had his schedule down perfectly - the time he went to work (late), when he sneaked out (early), the sleazy bars he went to, hoping to score (he was too drunk). Any time day or night, I knew where he was. I had my murder weapon picked out - a mountaineering axe my father had bought in college (who could trace that?). I was ready. And then . . .
One day I opened the door and there he was. Yes, Buddy came to my house, pleading forgiveness and begging me to take him back. He cried. He said he had realized the awfulness of what he'd done to me; that he'd found God; that he prayed I would forgive him; that all he wanted was to be with me and take care of me because really, he loved me deep down.
It was a golden opportunity. Right?
Wrong! I should have realized that the situation didn't fit with any of my plans. But that all went out the window, and I did what you should never do -I let circumstances choose me, instead of the other way around.
There was another reason why I lost it. Buddy's showing up on my doorstep was just like another morning years before when we were separated. Good old drunken Buddy had knocked on that same door, forced his way into that same apartment and raped me. Remembering that, I went berserk. And let me tell you, folks, berserk is messy.
4. Neat is Better. Maybe there's nothing as satisfying as an overhand axe blow to the head. Maybe your best move is where you pretend to search in your purse for cosmetics, come up with a straight razor and slash open his belly. Or maybe you're so strong or pumped up that you could literally rip someone's throat out like a Doberman. For that matter, maybe you've got a Doberman.
But messiness can cost you - even your life. When you make a mess, you spread evidence all around and all over yourself and make it that much easier for them to catch you. Look at the ruin I made of my kitchen when I killed Buddy.
I pretended to be touched by Buddy's confession and lured him toward the back of the house. I was excited, scared, horrified. It made me sick when his hand brushed my buttocks. I remembered how at parties he used to kiss me on the ear, or put his arms around me, and I would feel the bruises under my clothes.
We got to the kitchen, where I'd been ironing. I made myself turn around and put my hands on his chest and say, "Kiss me, Buddy." As he bent over - he was much taller than I am - I pulled up his tee shirt with one hand and grabbed the iron with the other. Let me tell you, the skin of the toughest tough guy is a lot softer than hot steel. Buddy screamed as I jammed the iron into his stomach (I'd been doing tablecloths and napkins for Christmas, and the iron was set on High Cotton). I pressed the Steam button, too. Buddy couldn't back up because he was against the refrigerator. But he finally knocked the iron out of my hands.
I quickly got the ironing board between him and me. "You bitch!" he screamed, clutching his belly (I guess his religious conversion was only skin deep). Then the real Buddy took over. He threw aside the ironing board. Just as he reached me, I grabbed a tall Pilsner glass out of the dish rack and smashed it on his face. He was stunned but not hurt - until I jammed the broken end into his mouth and nose. Bleeding, he got his hands around my throat. I almost passed out, remembering other fights, those dirty hands touching me . . .
I'm a pretty good cook and I pride myself on a professional kitchen. Luckily my butcher's cleaver was on the counter. It's from Germany, cost $200 and weighs about two pounds. It goes through a rack of ribs like butter.
I hit Buddy in the head as hard as I could, catching him just above the ear. His hands let go, but he didn't make a sound. Hot blood poured over the cleaver, my hand, and Buddy. I would have hit him again, but the damn thing went in so deep I couldn't get it out. Then Buddy fell, flattening the ironing board with a crash.
There's another part to messy: its what happens after you've created the corpse. Some people find they just can't stop. Take me - it all happened so fast with Buddy that I couldn't really believe he was dead. So I made sure.
But let me point out the obvious: after you kill someone, there's not a whole lot more you can do to them. You ought to feel some emotional closure. If you still have this urge to humiliate the corpse, obviously you've screwed up somewhere. Any mutilation that's not strictly part of a disposal strategy is risky and gets you tagged as a "sicko."
But because I'd let the process get out of control, I wasn't satisfied. So I ironed Buddy a little more (all that did was leave more wounds that matched my iron). And because of how he'd abused me in the past, when my eye fell on my paring knife, I guess I had a Lorena Bobbit moment.
I should have been proud, right? I'd killed Buddy, as planned - but not really as planned. I had used three weapons, not one. I had blood all over me. The victim had screamed and made noise. And I had the corpse in the middle of my kitchen! What was I going to do, bury him in the proverbial basement? My basement has a cement floor.
5. Location, Location, Location. Disposal of the body/bodies may be the single most important part of your plan. The last place you want the corpse is in your house! The SOD (scene of death) and the SOB (site of burial) should be as close together as possible - or even better, the same place. If you can get your spouse or ex to meet you at a gravel pit (without, of course, telling anyone where they're going), you are way ahead of the game.
Getting Buddy out of my house was like trying to dispose of 180 pounds of spoiled cold cuts. I'm not a big person. Rolling Buddy in a rug, taping it up nice and tight, dragging it to the garage, and lifting it into my pickup truck took the better part of three hours and every bit of strength I had left. If you have the misfortune to get stuck like this, be creative. I used a rope passed over a beam to get some purchase on the rug roll and lift the end into the bed of the pickup. Then I drove to our local landfill and dumped the roll. When I got home, stupid with terror, I still had a ton of clean-up to do. But . . .
6. Fear is Healthy in Small Doses. Think of fear as bio-feedback. It's your body trying to focus your mind. The whole way home from the landfill, I was quaking in my cross trainers. I had really done it! Buddy was gone forever! I would never have to share the world with him again.
But what if Buddy had told his friends or coworkers that he'd had this change of heart and was going to talk to me? (Unfortunately, he had done just that.) What if a neighbor had heard screams? ("Strange noises," they said). What if I had attracted attention at the landfill? ("This weeping woman was trying to wrestle a huge rug into the pit . . .").
But fear is a great motivator, if you can control it. I cleaned the hell out of that kitchen. I scrubbed any traces of hair or skin from the iron (I didn't think about the pattern of the holes on the bottom matching up with those on Buddy). It was easier to be cold and logical if I imagined myself riding in the back of a police cruiser in handcuffs.
Like the old joke says, "I'm not paranoid, I have real enemies." Fear the cops, because they are out to get you. But don't let it overwhelm you. I mean, why is policing so easy that even morons can do it? Because murderers make the same mistakes over and over. You can avoid them if you face the situation calmly and rationally. That means . . .
7. Set Realistic Goals. There is no perfect murder. Planning and neatness are important (see #2 and #4), but you can drive yourself crazy worrying about mistakes. Murder is one of many things that humans do, and human beings are imperfect (that's probably got a lot to do with why you've decided to get rid of one of them). I'd like to say, "don't sweat the small stuff," but even one human hair can send you to the gas chamber. However, don't get anxious over things you can't fix. Do what you can and leave it at that.
I hosed out the back of the pickup when I thought I could do it without being conspicuous, but I couldn't very well get down on my hands and knees with a magnifying glass and tweezers, could I? (Unfortunately, they did find a few fibers behind the wheel well). Blood is nasty sticky stuff, and you can't really hope to pick up every molecule - and it gets all over the thing you use to pick it up (I burned my rags in the fireplace, but they found a tiny spot of Buddy's blood on the nozzle of a spray cleaner I used!) Try to be smart, BUT:
8. Don't Get Cocky. There are a whole lot of don'ts under this heading. Don't hang around the SOD or SOB admiring your handiwork. Don't think you're invincible. Don't think because the murder has vanished from the papers, you've stumped them and they've stopped looking. They never stop.
The great murderers haven't been self-indulgent romantics; they were meticulous, restrained professionals like Landru - that's why people said they were crazy. Consider also that you may be planning another murder, or maybe a series of them, and arrogance will come back to haunt you, like it did me.
Because of the kind of guy he was, nobody got very upset when Buddy disappeared. After a couple of weeks, I relaxed. Not only that: I got a feeling of immense power. Despite all the screw-ups, I had pulled it off. And I could see how it could have all been done a lot more neatly. So . . .
I held my cousin Sue partly responsible for Buddy's cruelty to me. Sue used to flirt with him shamelessly and tell him lies about me that made him crazy with jealousy. After she went home he would beat me up, bad. Once he tried to shove my hand in the toaster.
I invited Sue over to my house to talk about Buddy's disappearance. I said that even after what he'd done to me, I was concerned about him. I told her not to tell anyone we were meeting, because I had some secrets to impart which I had never told anyone in my life. She ate it up.
Then I went and bought a large roll of heavy polyethylene sheeting like contractors use. I moved all the living room furniture into the dining room, and taped the plastic over every inch of the floor. When Sue arrived, I told her I was having the living room painted, starting with ceiling, and would she just come and look at the color to see if it was all right. At the center of the room, I'd left a silver dollar on the floor. "What's that?" I said. Sue bent down to pick it up.
I had the meat cleaver hidden inside my apron. I hit Sue right across the back of the head, where it met her neck. This time there was hardly any blood at all. I rolled Sue up in the plastic, then wrapped that in the tattered old sail from my windsurfer, which I'd been meaning to throw away. Sue was much lighter than Buddy and I had no trouble getting her to the landfill quickly.
I thought I was a genius. But the same MO? The same cleaver? The same SOD and SOB? Not smart. It was only because they found Sue that they ever found Buddy at all. The sail was lighter than a rug and got undone by the wind.
9. Be Nice to Yourself. I'm probably making this all sound worse than it was. One thing I've learned is that you have to take time out for yourself. You can't be a murderer twenty-four hours a day. Build some downtime into your schedule. Remember to spend quality moments with your family, your kids, whoever brings joy to your life, because who knows if you'll ever see them again? Hopefully everything will work out for the best, but you never know . . . After getting rid of Buddy and Sue, I started obsessing about evidence. I cleaned the house over and over. I stopped suddenly at traffic lights, hoping to get violently rear-ended so I could replace the bed of my pickup (it worked; however, the cops found the crumpled old bed in a junkyard).
I hardly went out; I stopped calling friends. Basically, I ruined my life. Where was the freedom I was supposed to be experiencing from never having to think about Buddy again? Never having to see Sue's smirking, malicious face? I realized after I got arrested that I had thrown away weeks of bliss that will never come again.
10. It's a Dirty Job, But . . . I sometimes wonder how people would behave if they didn't have the fear of murder in them. How much more vicious bosses would be if they didn't dread that some abused employee would "go postal" on them someday. Dictators fear assassination. Even massive conglomerates must be afraid that one of those Dominican kids they pay 60 cents a day to make little toys or clothes will grab a machete and take out an executive or two. The world we live in may reward greed and applaud inhumanity, but individuals are kept in check by the knowledge that their number could come up any time. Thus, people like you and me are keeping society from descending into total anarchy and injustice.
But don't expect anyone to understand. Every successful murderer wants to yell, "Look, Ma, no hands!" Avoid this urge like the plague. It's enough not to get caught. The papers will say you're evil and sick, and you'll want to prove that you're a regular person just like everybody else. Don't.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't feel proud. What could be a bigger high than committing an unsolvable murder? Why do you think people read murder mysteries? Face it, you're living the dream that most people only fantasize about. Sure, it's risky. But don't give up: I made all the mistakes there are, and I lived to tell about it! Some of my goofs even worked in my favor - the posthumous treatment of the body, that I laughed and cried at the landfill, my "pointless" killing of Sue, my depressed behavior in the weeks following the murder, all these helped with my insanity defense. They decided that eight years with Buddy had "shattered my mind." That's why I'm able to write to you from this hospital (from which, with any luck, I'll be released in a couple of years) instead of sitting on death row.
Speaking of which, it's great that they installed this computer so patients can communicate with the outside world and "lead a more normal existence" (though they're obsessed with the idea that we might be using it to access pornography). Whoever you are, dear reader, I know what you're going through. Just keep on keepin' on. And in the darkest moments, repeat to yourself the mantra that I used to get through my trial: " O.J. got off. Not to mention a few others (and we know who they are!). They say justice is blind, and if those guys walked, so can I!"
The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery (Palgrave for St Martin's Minotaur, NY, $24.95)
This is one of the most comprehensive and fascinating books which I have ever read. An encyclopedia conjures up something which you dip into now and then before leaving to gather dust on a shelf. This book could not be more different, it's almost addictive. You probably have days when you can't remember the name of an author, a character in a book or short story or even famous, real-life crimes - it's all here. Classic films and novels are summarised but without giving away their endings, it's all handled and presented so thoughtfully whilst offering a taster of the real thing. I'd never heard of many of the books and authors, despite thinking of myself as well read but this book made me want to go out and correct these deficiencies. The Encyclopaedia Britannica did not have quite the same affect on me!
If you want to know which books and films arose from Lizzie Borden, for example, then turn to 'B' and learn more about the tragic girl's history and the publications which arose from her alleged murder of her parents. There are 543, must-read pages to satisfy even the most knowledgeable crime-buff and answer the hardest of quiz questions on everything from Edward S Aarons to Mark Richard Zubro. It's not just informative but brilliantly written but, having read (and edited) his short story, I wouldn't expect anything less. I can't wait to read his novel - there must be one soon.
Reviewed by Fiona Shoop