Saturday, July 09, 2005

All the Gruesome Details

My grandmother was a terrific person and I remember her fondly. She had one habit, though, that gave me the willies. She had a voracious appetite for true crime magazines and books. I thought of that last week as newscast after newscast replayed the recital of the BTK killer's confessions to the murders he had committed.

She would have been sitting there at her tv set, soaking up all the gruesome details. I had to change channels before he made it through recounting the second murder. I never understood her fascination with the psychotic mind. We would ask her every now and then why she read that stuff. Her answer was that it was important for people to understand what could happen. Maybe she had a point, because it only took reading a couple of her magazines to convince me that you always had to be on guard against the good-looking, glib-talking stranger who drives a van.

Books that delve into psycopathic murders have been banned from my reading list since the summer I read Helter Skelter. I was just home between college semesters, spending a week pretty much alone since Mother and David were not yet out of school for the summer and Daddy was off doing whatever the church required of him. I have never been so spooked in my life. It got so bad that the slightest rustle of wind outside my window would make me jump a foot. I finished the book somehow, but the grisly details stayed in my subconscious for weeks. It was quite awhile before I quit looking over my shoulder.

My grandmother never tired of the gruesome details. Even when she lived alone in her later years, practically an invalid, she kept up her habit of reading true crime. I would have been a basket case, but it never seemed to disturb her. She would recount details of murders in nearby Austin that would make my flesh crawl. I think her appetite for the local grisly details was even greater after her son became an Austin cop. Something about that quasi-personal connection to the scene of the crime, as it were.

There were times when she managed to freak me out pretty well, and in fact I can still hear her in my mind reciting facts of a few of the Austin cases. After awhile I learned to protect myself by basically tuning her out when the conversation turned to murder. I assiduously avoid true crime literature and pretty much confine myself to headlines when the newspapers are wallowing in the blood and gore of the latest mass murderer. I'll read murder mysteries of the fictional variety, but like my mother, I prefer the cozy murder stories where the killings are committed by nice people.

Come to think of it, seems like those cozy murders would be more disturbing in a way. The idea that a nice person could be moved to murder. That would make anybody you know capable of murder under the right circumstances. But the stories are so patently fiction. No, it's the real thing, committed by psychotic sociopaths that chill me to the bone. I don't like to think about the real crazies moving in our midst. Maybe my grandmother was right about one thing. I keep my guard up because I know what could happen.

That's enough for me. I don't want to know the gruesome details. I think instead I shall go prowl the bookshelf for one of those cozy murders in turn of the century England that was committed by a nice person. They always put me to sleep.


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