Gerard John Schaefer was hacked to death in his cell at Florida State Prison on Sunday morning, December 3, 1995.
Found by guards an hour later, his blood-drenched body had sustained over 40 stab wounds, predominantly about the head and neck. Chaingang legend has it that one of his eyeballs was found on the yard, but a prison official who inspected the body after hearing the same story himself said that both eyes were still intact. Take your pick.
Vincent Rivera was charged with the murder on February 1, 1996, but a year later, the heavily-muscled 34-year-old confessed double murderer with a yen to die in the electric chair says they have the wrong man.
Psychiatrist Dr. Melvyn Gardner says Rivera has “the highest potential for homicide of any person I have ever examined.” With 46 disciplinary infractions since his incarceration in 1991, Rivera regularly disobeys direct orders. Blood-stained clothes and a makeshift shank were taken into evidence, and bloody palmprints found at the scene were preserved pending further investigation.
The news of Schaefer’s demise affected me as if a fetid miasma had drifted out the window of my life.
The Classic Case
The term serial killer was coined by Robert Ressler, the retired FBI agent who helped form the world-renowned Behavioral Science Unit.
In his book Whoever Fights Monsters, Ressler cites a classic case:
In our road shows, when I used to display the slides and give the lecture about the organized offender Gerard John Schaefer, someone in my audience would accuse me of having taken the characteristics of that sort of offender right from the details of Schaefer’s case. That’s not so, but it is true that the patterns associated with the organized killer are starkly apparent in this instance.
Even though he uses Schaefer to exemplify the organized type of serial killer, in a private conversation with this author Ressler reviewed the technicalities involved in defining Schaefer’s status:
I cannot say Schaefer actually was a serial killer, as we go by the record. By my own definition, a serial killer commits at least four murders, in four separate events, precipitated by fantasy, and separated by an emotional cooling-down period. Now, by law, Schaefer had only been convicted of two murders which were done at the same time, so technically, he didn’t fit the definition. But everything else did fit — the background, the fantasies, the psychological characteristics, the additional crimes he was suspected of — and so far as I’m concerned, the only thing that kept Schaefer from being labeled a serial killer was the inability of law enforcement to catch up with him.
Since no one knows a subject better than its originator, it is significant that out of thousands of cases, Ressler chose Schaefer to illustrate every salient feature of the organized serial killer. However, neither Ressler nor any other expert in serial murder knew Schaefer as well as I did, because they have never even met the man. I have gone much further than that.
A Real Lady Killer
At a high school dance in 1964, before my eyes materialized a dazzling young stranger — a tall, smiling blond, dressed to good advantage in a ruffled blue dress shirt that complemented his brilliant blue eyes and a white sports coat that set off his deepwater tan.
Proverbially, he caught my eye across the crowded room and soon we were exchanging words over the punchbowl. So poised, so courteous, so articulate!
The handsome stranger was unable to get my number that night, but I did give him my full name, and the next day he hit the phone book, trying every phone number listed under that name until he found me and asked me out. I was flattered by the attention at the time, but looking back I realize that was an indication of how thorough and persistent he could be when tracking down a female that excited him. It was the first time I knew what it was like to be pursued by a serial killer.
At 18, John Schaefer was one year older than I was. A bright, well-mannered Catholic boy whose family belonged to the local yacht club, he became my closest companion over the next year. We were in love. My parents were glad I had met such a nice boy, and invited him to go along with us on our summer vacation. I remember how we whiled away the hours out on my grandmother’s old porch swing, shucking peas and shooting the breeze, good-ole-boy style. I can still see him holding up his hands for my grandmother to wind her knitting yarn, patiently listening to her long, rambling tales and laughing easily at her corny jokes. My aunts adored him, commenting openly on how pleasant and polite he was. Even my demanding father approved of him.
After supper we might ramble through an old graveyard, philosophizing about the ancient dead before making love amongst the tombstones. Those early days remain in my mind like a bubble memory — how well he treated me, how sensitive he was, and how sweetly we loved each other. Many times he held my life in his hands, as he took me into the tangled wilderness of the Everglades, or out on the high seas in his daddy’s motorboat. But after a year, as young lovers will, we went our separate ways. I thought I’d never see him again.
Then in 1972 came the screaming headlines: “6 Dead, 28 May Be,” and the ghoulish stories about the smiling cop turned sadistic killer and corpse-loving fiend, hoarding mementos of his mutilated victims, and writing it all up in feverish prose. Absolutely unbelievable! I was appalled that crimes like this could be committed by anyone, much less someone I had known intimately. Remember, those were the days before the term “serial killer” existed, before Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer so irrevocably showed us what it meant. In those days, Schaefer’s type of crime was not only unnamed, it was unheard-of.
Frightened by what had become of my baby-faced dream, I was haunted by questions with unthinkable answers. Did I lose my virginity to a real lady-killer? And how could it be possible for the sweet boy I had held in my arms to be a homicidal maniac?
As shocked as I was, I’d always wondered about my first lover. Gentle and sweet, bright and polite, he was unfailingly eager to please. There was nothing abnormal about our youthful affair; he was a sensitive and enthusiastic lover. Yet as I searched my mind for clues to the monstrous entity he had become, I recalled the signs of danger. I had been too inexperienced to realize what I was seeing when I was involved with him as a teenager, but once I heard about the murders, looking back I remembered how he had been haunted by violent urges and twisted emotions.
When I first met him, he told me his last girlfriend could only get off when he would play-rape her, rip her clothes off, talk dirty and force sex on her. I let him know I was not like that. He assured me he didn’t get off on it either, he only did it to please her. He promised not to treat me that way, and to his credit, he never did. Perhaps I would have seen a different side of him from the beginning if I had responded differently.
According to the last few letters he sent me, he had been cultivating a secret life of sexual perversion and violence even while he was going steady with me. That would explain why his legitimate sex-life was apparently so free of deviance. Hiding the compulsive violence from friends, family members and coworkers is essential to maintaining the lifestyle of the serial killer.
I remember the day I pulled him off his father, who in his usual drunken haze, had called his mother a whore. In defense of his mother’s honor, John went after his father with a golf club, cracking him soundly over the head, and the two men were locked in what could have easily been mortal combat as I followed them out of the kitchen and into the carport, begging John to stop. Another time under similar circumstances, he had given his father a concussion with a bottle of barbecue sauce.
I have no first-hand knowledge placing my young boyfriend at the scene of any murder. I never saw him kill anything but squirrels, birds and fish. But the murderous intent I saw in his eyes as we stood out in his front yard one summer’s eve was unmistakable. He pointed out a certain window on an upstairs bedroom in a house two doors down. Cheeks flushed and eyes simmering with rage, he told me how a girl we both knew enjoyed flaunting her naked charms at him through that window. “What a slut!” he spat. His eyes narrowed as he vowed through clenched teeth, “I’ll put a stop to that.”
When Schaefer was arrested, among his collection of women’s jewelry, teeth, and ID’s was a dainty gold locket engraved in curly old-fashioned script with a single word that tells an eloquent tale to one who knows how to read it. The legend engraved on that gold locket says simply, “Leigh.”
Her name was Leigh Hainline. I was not a close friend, but I did go to school with her. She was known as Leigh Bonadies when she turned up dead, and the address listed was across town, but it was the same girl Schaefer had been watching for years. His name did come up in the investigation, but prosecutors had been unable to find enough evidence to bring charges.
Ironically, only months before Schaefer’s grim demise, Tim Bronson, Homicide Chief of the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department had re-opened the Hainline/Bonadies case, along with those of Belinda Hutchens and Carmen Hallock, two other women whose pitiful belongings had been found in Schaefer’s possession. Bronson had hoped to conclusively link Schaefer to these murders.
Years later when I asked Schaefer what happened to Leigh, his laconic reply was both a confession and a threat: “When you fuck with the bull, you get the horn.”
Schaefer was only nineteen years old when he told me how he struggled with the urge to kill another woman who lived on his street, whom he angrily accused of flaunting herself at him as she sunbathed in her back yard. We were out on the beach right across from Bahia Mar one windy night in 1965 cuddled up close together under an old Army blanket as he wept with dismay describing how he had planned to murder the sunbather, whom he had already taken to calling a whore, although he knew the woman had a full-time job and kissed her dates good-bye at the front door when they brought her home. He knew that from hiding and watching in the darkness, stoking his rage and stroking his sex, as his fantasies coalesced into plans. He had all his supplies stashed in the back of his old green Ford station-wagon: the baseball bat, the blanket, the ropes, the chains, the gun, and the concrete blocks.
He was going to hit her over the head with a baseball bat and knock her out, quickly wrap her unconscious body in a blanket and tie her up with her rope, drive the wagon down to the dock at the end of the street, load the bundle onto his daddy’s boat and run her out to the Everglades, where he would shoot her in the head and “she’d be gator bait by morning.” He was sure he could get away with it. “No body, no crime,” was the way he put it to me that night. The same phrases he uttered when was just nineteen would be repeated down through the years like a grim litany as the budding fleurs du mal blossomed into full-blown flowers of evil.
Although he never did kill his neighbor, a graphic account of the how he actually did sexually assault her later surfaced in a nasty little piece of work called “Gator Bait.”
About this same time, he confided in Betty Owen, his creative writing teacher, tearfully telling the middle-aged woman that he was obsessed with the urge to kill one of the younger female teachers. She referred him to the school counselor, who told me years later that it was to his everlasting regret that he had recognized the homicidal tendencies in the youth, but had been powerless to help him.
Not long after my young boyfriend broke down in tormented tears over his murderous urges, I told him it was over, dropping him flat without turning back. I don’t remember ever feeling afraid of him. I was just tired of being drafted into battle with his demons and I didn’t want to be his therapist.
After I broke up with him, he sent me melodramatic poems with silly images like “the ships of hope that had no hulls,” and told me he would hide and watch when I came home from dates with my new boyfriend. “I’ll get you back,” he promised. At the time I took his parting shot to mean he wanted me back as a girlfriend, but time has revealed the ominous undertones of that ambiguous phrase.
Eventually Schaefer moved on to other interests, and as the years passed I put him as far out of my mind as I could. But as hard as I tried, I could not escape the somber knowledge that I was alive while so many of the women who had known him were not.
I found myself scrutinizing the faces of rosy-cheeked blue-eyed strangers, wondering, “Is that him? Is that how he’s changed over the years? Is he out of jail already? Has he come looking for me? Is he still mad at me for leaving him?” I’d be on edge until I could determine that the stranger didn’t recognize me, because I knew that if it really were him, he’d know me instantly; I would see the flash of recognition in his eyes.
A Good Scare
It was a blistering hot Saturday in July of 1972, a good day for the beach, and Nancy Trotter, 17, and Paula Sue Wells, 18, had planned on catching some rays so they’d have something to show for their trip.
Paula, better known as Sue, was from Texas and Nancy was from Illinois. They had been vacationing in Stuart, Florida for just two days. They were going to catch a ride to the beach with the smiling young sheriff’s deputy they’d met the day before.
When Nancy and Sue first met Jerry Schaefer, the uniformed cop had been driving his squad car. He told them he’d give them a ride to the beach if they’d meet him at the bandshell at 9:30 A.M. the next day.
But when he pulled up to the bandshell in his battered baby-blue Datsun on Saturday, July 22, he was dressed in shorts and a sport shirt. He’d been switched to plainclothes duty, he explained, and was just doing observations. Because they knew he was a cop, they jumped right in his car, never stopping to wonder what he planned on observing.
Marion County Sheriff Richard Crowder was using his day off to mow the lawn, when his wife called him to the phone. It was Deputy Sheriff Jerry Schaefer, and he said it was important, as Sheriff Crowder described it to me one day in his office. “‘I’ve done something terrible,’ he said. ‘You’re really going to be mad at me this time.’ I asked him, well, what was it, and he told me he had arrested a couple of girls and had tied them up but they had got away. So I told him to come on in and report to his shift captain, and I got in my car and went out looking for the girls. I found both of them still in handcuffs, one of them swimming across the river, and the other one walking along the road. Schaefer went on in and turned himself in. Now, he was convicted on that one, and he went to jail for it, but while he was out on bail, it looked like he got a-hold of another couple of girls and this time, he killed them.”
The day after the assault, Nancy and Sue, covered with bruises, scratches and insect bites, described their day at the beach with Officer Schaefer. In an interview with State’s Investigator Littman, Nancy described how it all began.
“Well, he started driving towards Jensen beach, and he asked us if we wanted to see an old Spanish fort that was on the river, and we said OK, you know,” said Nancy. “And so he was driving down, and then he pulled in this dirt road, that’s when I started getting worried. He kept going back further and further…”
Sue continued, “I got worried, because he had told us the day before when he picked us up, not to tell anyone, you know, he emphasized it several times, not to tell anyone a policeman was taking us out there. I got worried when he turned down that road, because it seemed awfully suspicious.”
Nancy described how Schaefer parked the car at the Spanish fort and they all got out. Schaefer thoughtfully sprayed the girls with insect repellent before escorting them around the fort. “Then we went to get back in the car and, uh, we just sat there, and then he looked at us and he said, ‘Why did you girls lie to me yesterday?’ you know, and we were shocked. And we said, ‘About what?’ and he started, “Well, I checked up on you in Juvenile Court,” and he said he had called up there and that we were runaways.”
After explaining to Investigator Littman that it wasn’t true, Nancy continued, “We both started laughing, you know, runaways, it sounded kind of funny. And I told him, I said, ‘I’m not a runaway, my mother knows where I am and I’m eighteen and it wouldn’t matter anyways…’”
Sue picked up, “Then he asked us if we wanted a free ride home, and we said, ‘We’re not ready to go home, we want to stay another week.’ And he said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, but you have to go home anyway. Your parents are worried about you, and they want you to come home, and you’re runaways. And if you resist, I’ll put you under arrest.’ And so we figured, well, we don’t want to be put under arrest, you know, a free ride home, OK, you know? So then he said, ‘Do you have any dope on you?’ and we said ‘No,’ and he said, ‘Get out of the car.’”
The girls described how he made them stand outside the car while he went through Nancy’s purse. Then, Sue continued: “He asked me if I had anything on me, and I said I do, then he said, ‘Well, what do you wear?’ and I told him, and he said, ‘Do you wear any underwear?’ and I told him no. So he said, ‘Well, I can’t search you because that’s illegal, but there’s one thing I can do,’ and he got in his car, and that’s when he got the handcuffs out.”
When he asked Nancy what she was wearing, she told him she had on a bathing suit underneath her clothes. “So he said, ‘Well, I’m placing you two under arrest for runaways,’ and he handcuffed us behind our backs.”
Then Sue described how she told him, “‘Well, may I laugh? This is really funny,’ and he said, ‘Sure, go ahead and laugh,’ so we just started giggling and then he said, ‘Y’all think this is a big joke, you just don’t know how serious it really is.’”
But they were soon to find out. Schaefer put the girls back in the car, handcuffed behind their backs. They thought he was going to take them back to the police station, but he told them they were going to sit right there. He asked them numerous questions about the halfway house they’d given as an address, and he wanted to them to tell him all they knew about Stuart, with particular emphasis on where they were getting their dope. They told him they’d only been there two days and they didn’t have any dope. For 45 minutes, they sat in the sweltering midsummer heat handcuffed in the back seat of Schaefer’s dingy Datsun, listening to him rant about dope and related topics.
“And then he started talking about white slavery,” said Sue.
“He asked us how we’d like to be sold into white slavery,” explained Nancy. “He said it ought to be a nice experience, you could really see the world, go to South America or South Africa and be a white slave… then he said, ‘Would you screw me for $150?’ and I said, ‘No, not for all the money in the world,’ and he said ‘If you were a white slave, you’d be doing it for free.’ Then he goes, ‘How would you like that, Sue? How would you like that?’ So we just quit talking to him.”
“Then he started estimating how much he could get for us,” said Nancy. “And he started asking about our parents, if they knew where we were, and did we think they’d put up a ransom for us.”
“And I told him my parents would try to scrape up the money, I mean, they’re not that well-off, but…” Sue hesitated, then came back, “And then he started in about the white slavery again, and he kept saying he had a friend he could sell white girls to.”
Then Nancy Trotter mentioned the same theory Schaefer had described to me seven years earlier. “He was telling us how people disappeared, and there’s no crime without a victim, it’s just a missing person when they don’t have a body.” How many other women heard Schaefer recite that sinister motto? And where are those women now?
Paula Sue Wells was still in shock, and her mind had already begun the healing process of suppressing as much of her ordeal as she could, but as she and Nancy relived it for Investigator Littman, it started to come back. “Yes, now I remember. I hadn’t thought about it till now, but he said he’d kill us and bury us in a hole real deep and cover us up and nobody would ever find us.”
“And all we’d be was a missing person,” said Nancy. “I thought all this was to scare us into telling who had the dope in the city, but we were both confused. We couldn’t see what it was all for.” But the confusing chat in the car was drawing to a close. Now it was time for action.
“He had us get out of the car,” Nancy said, “We were still handcuffed, and he got my blanket and made us go over in the field.”
Sue continued, “He went to his car and got the key to his trunk, you know, and I saw everything then. He had a bunch of ropes and rags and stuff to tie us up with, and he said, ‘We’re going to go out in back here in the bushes, and y’all don’t run away.’ and, ‘Can I trust you to stay here while I go get my friend?’”
“Yes, and he wanted us not to scream, too,” interjected Nancy.
“So then he took us back in the bushes and laid the blanket down, and gagged both of us, and he told me to lay down on the blanket, but I didn’t lay down. I just stood there. And then he tied my legs up and said he was going to separate us and tie us up in different places. And he told me not to try to get away because if I did he would kill me, he’d catch up with me and kill me. And then he told me not to scream, because he said if I screamed, he’d come back and wrap the gag around me so tight I would shit in my pants.”
There you have it. Sue had mentioned Schaefer’s signature. His fantasies consistently revolved around the moment when the female victim is so terrified she defecates. If she doesn’t do it before her death, then she can always be made to produce this thrilling effect in the course of being murdered. His fantasies were predominantly scatological to the end, and the imagery of defecation was bound to surface in any crime he committed. In the parlance of law enforcement, this signature would be appear as Schaefer’s “ritual,” since that feature was employed solely for his own personal gratification. The pragmatic approach of qualifying his potential victims beforehand and then carefully disposing of their corpses afterwards would be his “M.O.” because he did it in order to avoid apprehension.
Sue went on to describe how Schaefer had gagged and bound her hand and foot as she stood there handcuffed in the trees.
Meanwhile, Nancy had just been standing there gagged and cuffed. “Then he took me over to the river and had me stand up, and he tied my feet together with the rope, and then he redid my gag, cause it was falling off. And he had me stand on the root of a tree and he made a noose around my neck, put a rope around my neck, and hung it over a branch of the tree, and he tied the other end down onto a branch, a stub that was sticking out. Then he started, like you know, a scene. Like, please don’t do it here, there’s too many mosquitoes, and I was crying and he didn’t do anything. And then he started, he pinched me, you know. And I got real disgusted, and I said ‘Don’t,’ and he said, ‘I could just take your pants off right here,’ and he started…”
“Where was he pinching you?” asked Littman.
“On the butt,” Nancy replied. “And then he started to go for my zipper, but I turned around. And he just laughed, and he didn’t do anything. And I started to fall off this root. If I fell off this root I would have hung. I started falling off and choking, and he just, he pushed me back up and sat me on there, and he warned me not to scream. And then he left me.”
Nancy described how she chewed the noose around her neck, then crawled up the root and untied the rope from the stump. After that she had to do a backbend to untie her legs, as she was still handcuffed, but she did manage to undo them undone and escape.
Meanwhile, Sue had maneuvered her way out of the ropes on her legs, but she still had the gag in her mouth when Schaefer came back. “He said, ‘I’m going to tie you up to a tree now, so that if you try to get loose, you’ll hang yourself,’” Then Schaefer helped her to her feet, and picked up the blanket. Carrying a long rope and the blanket he set off for the river. “I couldn’t walk very fast cause of the stickers, and he kept saying, ‘Hurry up, hurry up!’ and I kept saying, ‘Well, I have stickers in my feet, wait and let me try to get them out.’”
Apparently Schaefer couldn’t wait, because he picked Sue up and threw her over his shoulder, carrying her to a tree, where he trussed her up much like he had Nancy, except this time it wasn’t a root she stood on, it was a slope. “He tied my legs up, then he ran a rope up from behind, from my ankles up, and tied it to the handcuffs. And then I had to spit the gag out, and he said, ‘How did you do that?’ And he put it on real tight, and I felt like I was going to black out. So I said ‘Loosen it, it’s hurting me,’ so he loosened it up a little, and he tied me to the tree and all, and then he said, ‘Do you have VD?’ And I said, ‘No,’ because I was afraid. I really thought he was going to sell us, and I was afraid if I told him I had VD, he wouldn’t, and he’d have no use for me, so he’d kill me… Then he picked up my shirt and looked down my pants and he just laughed. Then he said, ‘Don’t scream, and don’t try to run away cause I’m not going to be very far down the road, I’m just going down the road to meet that man that’s going to buy you,’ and I said, ‘Why do you want to sell us?’ and he said, ‘For the money, I’d do anything for money,’ and I said, ‘Well, that’s wrong,’ you know. And I was going to talk to him, that’s before he gagged me, when I was trying to talk to him. He said, ‘Don’t lecture me, sweetheart. I didn’t bring you here for a lecture.’ Then after that, he tied me up, and before he left he said, ‘Don’t try to run away,’ and then he walked off, and I started getting loose. And I found Nancy walking down the road…”
Nancy cut in, “Yes, I had gotten loose, and…”
“He didn’t come back to check on you then?” Littman asked Nancy.
“No,” she explained. “I went up on back of that Spanish fort and I saw his car still there. So I ran back by the river and I saw Sue in the trees, and she was calling, ‘Nancy, Nancy’ but I thought he was there making her call me, I thought he saw I was gone. So I didn’t say anything. I started going faster down by the river, and it sounded like someone was following me, so I started running, and I took up on land, and hid in this overgrowth for about a half an hour… I got eaten alive by mosquitoes…”
Nancy told of struggling through the underbrush and the woods, and then walking along the river until she saw a road on the other side. Handcuffed, she managed to swim through the river to the other side, where Sheriff Crowder picked her up.
“After I saw Nancy, I was afraid to yell for her again,” said Sue, “because I was afraid he had just left a couple of minutes ago, and I still had the noose on my neck and part of the rope on my feet.” After she got free from the ropes, she ran through the woods and the river, still gagged and handcuffed, her arms bound with a scarf. “I found a dirt road, and I ran down it and I was crying, and this man stopped in a pickup truck and then the policeman came.”
Robert Ressler analyzes Schaefer’s crime:
Before going further with the story, let me point out the attributes of the organized offender that are present so far in the narrative. The abductor personalized the victims by talking with them, used his own vehicle, and conned the women into his car by means of his verbal skills. He brought his own threatening weapon to the scene and took it away with him, had a rape kit, and was plainly planning to complete sexual acts with the women prior to torture and murder. After the murder, he was going to hide and dispose of the bodies. He displayed mobility and adaptive behavior during the crime when he left the women tied up and went to pay attention to some other aspect of his life, telling them that he would return and finish them off later.
Schaefer always avoided discussing this nearly-lethal assault case, because he disliked the inevitable conclusion that the similarities between the double assault and the double murder were both numerous and significant. Still, when pressed by Steve Dunleavy in 1991, his eyes sparkled for A Current Affair as he smirked, “It was an emotional intimidation type of a thing,” and then laughed out loud. “Oh, it gave them a good scare, no doubt about that.”
Physically painful torture wasn’t necessary to gratify his sadistic compulsions on this occasion. Just from knowing the fear his victims suffered, he derived that desperately twisted feeling of sexualized power he had learned to crave and could achieve no other way. Schaefer persuasively described the pleasure he derived from experiments in terror like these:
My own preference was in the preliminaries, and the increasing terror generated by the woman’s awareness that she was in the hands of a homicidal maniac. I was entranced by the various ploys that the captive women would use in order to save their lives. Most of them would try something, and I made it a game to see how long it would be before the victim would request to be killed.
This entertainment varied from one victim to another, and it might take the form of physical or psychological torture. If and when the lady decided to say she’d had enough, I was quite willing to put her out of her misery — if she asked nicely. This sort of experiment is perfect for a person of sadistic tendencies, since we sadists do not consider our victims to be genuinely human. Ted never thought of the women he killed as persons, but only as objects. I did the same and found it an excellent way to avoid any human feeling for them. I guess one would consider that a sociopathic quality, but what the hell, we all have our faults, and I am no different than anyone else in that respect.
The double life terms Schaefer was serving when he was killed were for the murders of two teenage girls — the blonde Susan Place and the brunette Georgia Jessup.
They were chopped to pieces and buried some time between July of 1972, when Nancy and Sue were assaulted, and January of 1973, when Schaefer was finally locked up for good.
Schaefer compared his crimes to those of his arch-rival, Ted Bundy:
Ted was, of course, a tyro when he nabbed Ott and Naslund; when I nabbed Jessup and Place I had been in the ghoul game for almost 10 years, so I knew what to expect from these juicy young creatures at the end. By then I was into doing double murders and an occasional triple when the opportunity arose, whereas Ted at the same point of time was only able to handle singles. He was playing at copycat and doing a poor job of it at that.
Doing doubles is far more difficult than doing singles, but on the other hand it also puts one in a position to have twice as much fun. There can be some lively discussions about which of the victims will get to be killed first. When you have a pair of lively teenaged bimbolinas bound hand and foot and ready for a session with the skinning knife, neither one of the little devils wants to be the one to go first. And they don’t mind telling you quickly why their best friend should be the one to die.
Schaefer delighted in courting the perverse status only the most heinous of crimes convey — while insisting that he was an innocent man who deserved to be released. From boasts of one-upping Bundy he would go to flat deadpan denial: “I’ve never killed anyone, period.”
Schaefer’s appeals were rejected twenty times, all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. Undeterred, he continued to promote the theory that he was guilty of nothing more than writing realistic fiction, and that he could not be linked to the scene of any murders anywhere — not even the two he was convicted of. His conviction, he contended, stemmed from an elaborate conspiracy requiring the cooperation of the prosecution, the defense, the judge, the media, the FBI, the victims’ families, the State Department of Motor Vehicles, and law enforcement officers in at least six jurisdictions.
But his mind was filled with sexually violent fantasies that consistently featured someone very much like himself playing the homicidal maniac. These kinds of morbid obsessions typically start the cycle that culminates when the vicious dreams become real, and somebody winds up dead.
It’s not just the two assaults and two murders he was convicted of, it’s the girls like Leigh Hainline, whose memories were kept alive in the form of the pitiful little trophies he took from them. It’s the nameless ones who became “gator bait by morning.” You can hear their voices echoing through his prose — the known ones, the unknown ones, and the ones that got away. Like me. But I’m not singing the song he put in my mouth. Not any more.
Burning With a Blue Flame
The work that appears in this volume began on February 8, 1989 when I addressed a letter to Gerard John Schaefer in his maximum security cell at Florida State Prison, asking if he remembered me.
“How could I not remember you?” he gushed. “A former great love of my life, but then I always burn with a blue flame when it’s a romance. Did burn. Sure ain’t no romance to be had in here.”
Telling him I had become a freelance writer, I asked if he’d like to work on a book about his life with me. “I’ve been approached by about a dozen writers; a few of them I’ve even talked contract with, but in the end I’ve never concluded a deal. My position is that any book about my case or life must be truthful and accurate as to facts, and none of this “police sources suspect” bullshit. In plain words — no hocus pocus.” He continued, “The story about my case has not been done. It’s virgin territory, a virtual terra incognita.” Then in a cozy aside, he allowed, “Naturally, I’m favorably disposed toward someone who has known me intimately.”
I asked if he was still mad at me for breaking up with him. “As Neil Sedaka used to croon, ‘Breaking Up is Hard to Do,’ and I have some painful emotional memories about us, but nothing you’d classify as hostile.” He concluded, “Social stuff can go on the back burner. You want to write a book and I’m uncommitted as yet, so to get things going in the right direction, sit down and give me your pitch on exactly what you have in mind.” My proposal persuaded him I was up to the job, and thus our collaboration began.
As I sat and talked with Schaefer in prison during a series of personal visits in 1990 and 1991, his physical presence reminded me of John D. MacDonald, the Florida novelist who wrote so hard but looked so soft. Schaefer had long since lost those movie-star good looks that had once dazzled me so. The man who would characterize himself as “a former street cop who is in open population in perhaps America’s most repressive hellhole” was a nebbish: portly, pale, balding, and half-blind. Though he would portray himself in the most macho light possible, stressing, “I walk the yard like a man,” my impression was that he no more resembled a killer than he did a cop. More like a middle-aged, deskbound clerk gone to seed.
I had always known Schaefer to be well-spoken and pleasant, funny and smart — an educated, cultivated man with many attractive qualities. And incongruous though it might seem, he still retained much of the polish of his background. After all, not only had he graduated from police academy, he had taken college-level courses in creative writing under Harry Crews, and acquired a B.S. degree from Florida Atlantic University in criminal justice. He had always exhibited a certain class consciousness, and a score of years behind bars had not made him any less of a snob. Even though his daily existence was proof enough that he was on the same level as his neighbors, still he patronized them as “nothing but a bunch of ignorant niggers and white trash.” You would think he was just visiting the prison conducting research to continue his studies in criminal justice.
Even though his demeanor was superficially civilized, still at times he could be quite chilling. It was not the man himself. It was the shadowy entity lurking just out of sight, the treachery and deception hidden by an unassuming demeanor that exemplified what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.”
In accommodation, I developed a multi-faceted interface. I found myself having more than one relationship with him at a time, a curious experience to be sure.
I caught more than a glimpse of his dark side. I saw it in his threats and his cruelty, his deceptiveness and destructiveness. Then there was the ambiguity of that ever-present smile. I learned about the cannonade of rage disarmed by his smiling facade. And I finally came to understand the puritanical rage that flared up when a woman shook her naked assets in his face.
The Guilty Mind
The most intriguing aspect of Gerard John Schaefer’s case was the fact that writings found in his closet were used to convict him.
While it was not alleged that these fragmentary notes actually describe the murders, they were introduced on the legal principle of mens rea, or the guilty mind, as they portrayed his murderous intent with chilling accuracy. Indeed, one of the jurors stated flatly that it was these closet fantasies that persuaded him to convict.
“The psychiatrist told him to write down everything that went through his mind,” said Mrs. Doris Schaefer, his mother. “It was supposed to help him somehow.”
After being arrested for the assaults on Nancy Trotter and Paula Sue Wells, he started writing again. Emerson Floyd was Schaefer’s cellmate for his first six weeks in the Martin County Jail, where he had been confined since January 15, 1973. Floyd told reporters that Schaefer spent most of his time writing.
“He wouldn’t show it to us,” he said. “He’d lay in his bunk and write and then he’d read his writing to us. It was mostly just brutal. I tell you, there were some hair-raising things.”
Whatever Schaefer wrote during those early days of incarceration will remain another one of the unsolved mysteries of this case. On April 1, 1973, when Schaefer heard that the bodies of Susan Place and Georgia Jessup had been found, Floyd said he stopped telling his brutal stories to his cellmates. “He cut his stories up in tiny pieces and dropped them in the wastebasket.”
Once I learned how integral Schaefer’s stories were to his case, I could not help but wonder. An unwitting Pandora, I asked him, “Do you still write those stories?” In reply, he began firing off a series of searing scenarios of sexual homicide that went so far beyond accepted standards that for a while I was simply reeling. I had no idea what to do with this stuff.
Then I received his account of shoptalk with Ted Bundy, describing how Ted had seen the news stories about Schaefer and recognized his face from the pictures in detective magazines. Schaefer wrote, “I was once billed as ‘The Greatest Mass Murder of Women This Century,’ and that is no small statement. It’s a real good ticket into the society of fiends.” After describing a discussion of techniques and preferences, Schaefer wrote that Bundy “couldn’t get enough of conversation like that. It was like he felt I knew for sure there was a real boring side of Deathwork, and it wasn’t all raging sexual release, as the media likes to portray it.”
“That’s IT!” I literally jumped up and raced to my office, without even finishing the letter. I didn’t know what he was going to write, but from that moment on, I decided I was going to publish it.
Between March and July of 1989, Schaefer sent me the stories included in two sections of Killer Fiction, “Whores” and “Starke Stories.” Selections from the stories and drawings used as evidence in his 1973 murder trial are included in the section, “Actual Fantasies.” A limited edition of the volume comprising these three sections was copyrighted and published in June of 1989.
After Killer Fiction was finalized, another batch of stories pushing further into the reality zone was released as Beyond Killer Fiction, including stories as graphic as titles like “Flies in Her Eyes” and “Blonde on a Stick” seem to suggest.
“I’m not writing non-fiction,” explained the literary madman. “It’s killer fiction: a new genre, where the writer takes violence as an artistic medium and instead of glorifying it, makes the reader see it as the cruel and horrid act it is in reality. I don’t represent violence as good or bad, merely as it is. I let the reader conclude that violence is a socially negative force, not to be reveled in.” Thus he expounded his grim postmodern aesthetic.
Later on he penned what he called a “killer serial,” a dozen or so loosely-connected stories relating the adventures of Detective Dan Kelly, Rogue Cop, satirizing the myth that had grown up around his own case and caricaturing various individual who had encountered him, including myself, the real Detective Kelly, and the criminologist Joel Norris, who tagged him “The Sex Beast” in his book Serial Killers: The Growing Menace.
“Whores — What to DO About Them” are five brief homicidal scenarios where women described as whores are slain by a serial killer. Shooting, stabbing, and hanging are each rendered in turn. In “Spring Break,” Schaefer gave the killer his own name and physical description. Schaefer completely rewrote the story, changing it from the third person in the first draft to the first person, drawing the reader closer into the mind of the psychopath as he stalks and dispatches his prey.
The “Starke Stories” go beyond the crime itself into its supercharged aftermath, taking the reader inside a maximum security prison from the point of view of the convicted killer. One story relates a grisly prison slaying that eerily foreshadows the author’s own demise.
Most of the objections to Killer Fiction voiced by the State of Florida referred to it as “pornography,” thus apparently putting the onus of their disapproval on the sexually explicit portions of the text. However, it is more likely that the sordid prison scenes were considered offensive enough to merit suppression by Corrections.
The stories Schaefer sent me at that time were really being written at me, in a kind of exhibitionistic assault designed to break through my nonchalant demeanor. In his own twisted psyche, anger, fear and revulsion were inextricably intertwined with his sexuality, and he hoped to arouse the same complex of sexually decadent emotions in me. More than once he suggested that what he had written had “made my panties wet.” Not hardly! I could never find Schaefer’s sick psychosexual pathology sexually stimulating. But I didn’t disabuse him of his fantasies. I found the profound maliciousness he expressed as revealing as it was disturbing. In the privacy of my own home I was reacting emotionally with a combination of disgust and fascination. However, when I took keyboard in hand to respond to him, I managed to keep a lid on it. I was seeking some insight into the mind of a serial killer, and he was giving me the answers the only way he knew how.
I had been handling these toxic thoughts with a certain amount of troubled equanimity for about three months when Schaefer upped the ante and sent me a story calculated to offend every possible sensibility. I hadn’t recoiled when he would write of slicing and dicing many a woman just like me, and crow at desecrating her corpse and her memory; I had not withdrawn when he gleefully waxed anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and homophobic; but I finally lost my composure when it came to his unabashed racism. Having served as a social revolutionary for some years on the civil rights front, I found myself viscerally offended by the tirades he was sending me. Once he found out what he had to do to provoke a reaction, he crafted his weapon. He went straight for my most sensitive area in a story that radiates profound sexual perversion and vicious racial animosity. He called it “Nigger Jack,” and I purely hated it.
When he sent me the first draft, I scribbled, “This is disgusting!” on his manuscript, wadded it up, and sent it straight back to him.
The killer auteur could not have been more thrilled:
I was so pleased with your reaction to “Nigger Jack.” Honestly, I never thought I’d be able to gag the Media Queen! If I can make someone as jaded as yourself squirm with distaste and revulsion, there is yet hope for me as a horror writer… move over, Clive Barker! I may retire on that effort. I still think the idea of enclosing a barf bag with the book would be a boon… I’ve never been bland, indifferent, or predictable. I always manage to generate a reaction… of course, it’s not always a favorable reaction. But I do not write these stories to degrade the reader. I’d like to strike a blow against capital punishment by showing how it degrades all the parties involved, and thus Society as a whole. The validity of the scene goes to the basic truth of the event: Do women pop when electrocuted? (Yes.) Now we are dealing with fact — a fact people would rather not be confronted with. I believe it has a greater impact on the reader to present such a matter as a visual so that a mental picture is formed of what is being done by the representatives of the People. Who are the People? The People is you, kiddo. All the college cuties out in the field hopping up and down with Burn Ted signs never once thinking they could end up on the same griddle, just like Andrea Hicks Jackson. To give the college cutie the benefit of the doubt, let’s say she’s acting in ignorance of what really occurs. “Nigger Jack” will let her know in graphic sequence what she condones but does not see. It is a slap across the face of pro-death penalty society. Even the jaded Media Queen is taken aback! Good. Because if it can get you upset, and in upsetting you causes you to think, then imagine what it can do to the ladies of the Ft. Pierce Bridge Club, most of whom vote for pro-CP candidates.
As I caught myself breaking my resolutely unruffled demeanor, I wondered why I should be so disturbed. After all, I kept telling myself, it’s only a story. But I found these stories so palpably assaultive. Schaefer seemed to relish creating shock waves, and the more negative the reaction, the better it gratified his masochistic side. Physically restrained in prison, he had found a more abstract weapon to use in performing his same old sadomasochistic rituals, this time wounding the emotions if not the flesh.
But I found Schaefer’s rationale compelling, and eventually I had to concede his point. Like MacBeth, I had “supped full with horrors,” and slaughterous thoughts no longer startled me. But even as cynically inured to Schaefer’s homicidal ideology as I had become in that short period, I found that this story actually pulled me out of my benumbed stupor and forced me to react. And if a work of art of any kind could so profoundly affect me, there had to be some kind of terrible significance to it. The visceral nature of my own reaction convinced me to publish it despite the fact that it disturbed and repelled me.
The truth about his crimes did not matter to me as much as the chance to take a look into his deranged mind. Somehow I managed to overcome my revulsion to his sexually violent obsessions enough to continue documenting them. His sexism, his racism, his fury at every living being in the world, including himself… his boasts of rape, sodomy, murder, even necrophilia… these I managed to tolerate by reminding myself that this was important data.
And so I decided to set aside my own personal distaste for the ugliness of the work, and focus on presenting it in all its twisted glory and leave it to the audience to tell me what it was.
In 1991, shortly after Loompanics published the story in their catalog, Schaefer wrote, “I had a fan letter saying ‘Nigger Jack’ was ‘a hilarious and entertaining prison insider story.’ I had never seen it as pure comedy. The fans all want more. Are they crazy or what?”
Although he had set out to convince me that he really was a serial killer, once Schaefer persuaded me, apparently he expected our enterprise to keep rolling merrily along as it had before. But I no longer had too much to say about his claims of innocence.
These confessions were delivered along with threats as to what he would do, or have done, if I were to reveal them. He threatened to call on his alleged connections within biker gangs, white supremacists, satanists, and the so-called Dixie Mafia to have me abducted, raped, and even murdered. He was frustrated when these gorilla tactics did not intimidate me into helping him maintain his creative writing alibi.
When Schaefer began to enjoin my child in his threats, I shut him down for good. I had the prison forbid him to write to me any more. Then he mounted a propaganda campaign, releasing statements through various outlets he established, claiming that he had been irreparably harmed not only by myself, but by every other writer who dared to even imply that he was exactly what he appeared to be: a serial killer trying to get away with murder.
He filed three lawsuits against me. When he attempted to set one of his libel lawsuits for hearing in Alachua County, I responded by filing a Motion for Security and as Exhibit A, attached 500 pages of his handwritten threats and confessions. After perusing this singularly persuasive document, the Court summarily dismissed Schaefer’s claim and sealed the record.
This same Exhibit A also appeared in affidavits that I made available to two separate authors defending themselves against the serial litigator’s claim that they had libeled him by tagging him a serial killer. The results were unanimous. In Schaefer v. Michael Newton the court ruled that Schaefer is “a serial killer undoubtedly linked to numerous murders” and in Schaefer v. Colin Wilson Schaefer was declared “libel-proof under the law.”
The three lawsuits Schaefer filed against me were dismissed, and his attempts to have criminal charges brought against me similarly failed.
Through Killer Fiction he reveals only one portion of his multiple reality. The man was as complex and contradictory as a revolving series of funhouse mirrors. It is the kind of fractured behavior that can only issue from someone who is truly capable of committing such depraved acts. Just as one aspect of this pernicious entity is revealed, it is replaced by its opposite. Only a person capable of cultivating a legitimate role in society while simultaneously indulging in a secret life of violence and perversion can convey such contradictory images of himself. The capacity for encompassing diametrically opposed self-images is essential to nurturing a secret life of predation while functioning within society for long enough to get away with murder more than a couple of times.
The confusion Schaefer created issued from the qualities that made the man what he was. A term like “serial killer” is only useful to describe one aspect of his behavior. It is less helpful in coming to terms with the essential disorder that distinguishes his psyche. Words like “psychopathic” and “sadomasochistic” and “antisocial” and even “multiple personality” have been used to describe personalities like Gerard John Schaefer, but while they may be accurate in a clinical sense, they are somewhat lacking in conveying their most irreducibly intrinsic trait.
I believe M. Scott Peck captures it best in his excellent book People of the Lie:
People in prison can almost always be assigned a standard psychiatric diagnosis of one kind or another, corresponding in layman’s terms to such qualities as craziness or impulsiveness or aggressiveness or lack of conscience. But the evil have no such obvious defects, and do not fall clearly into our routine psychiatric pigeonholes. This is not because they are healthy. It is simply because we have not yet developed a definition for their disease.
How is it that psychiatrists have until now failed to recognize such a distinct, rigid type? It is because they have bought the pretense of respectability. They have been deceived by what Harvey M. Cleckley called ‘the mask of sanity.’ Evil is ‘the ultimate disease.’ Despite their pretense of sanity, the evil are the most insane at all.
When confronted by evil, the wisest and most secure adult will usually experience confusion. We literally feel overwhelmed by the labyrinthine mass of lies and twisted motives and distorted communication into which we will be drawn if we attempt to work with evil people.
Describing an encounter with an evil person, one woman wrote, ‘it was as if I’d suddenly lost my ability to think.’ Once again, this reaction is quite appropriate. Lies confuse.
The evil are ‘the people of the lie,’ deceiving others as they also build layer upon layer of self-deception. Forever fleeing the light of self-exposure and the voice of their own conscience, they are the most frightened of human beings. They live their lives in sheer terror. They need not be consigned to any hell; they are already in it.
One Step Ahead of the Flames
To enter chez Schaefer was to wander through the Byzantine lair of a terminal malignancy in human form. Because of his strong need to deceive himself, his perception of reality was profoundly distorted.
Imagine the image he must have had of the woman he had fantasized about for seventeen solitary years… who suddenly materialized one day like a tantalizing rainbow-colored vision, lifting him out of the gloom of his dungeon, and taking him on a dizzying dance with the notoriety he both craved and deplored… the woman who finally turned her back on him and fled, elusive as a black cat, vanishing into the night without so much as a farewell flick of her tail.
Before Schaefer’s wounded heart could heal, he was dealt a most unkindly cut. When the Supreme Court finally rejected his appeal, he had lost his favorite confidante. He languished forgotten and forlorn in his lonely cell, watching her on national TV being serenaded in court by the rugged young serial killer whose face had been in the news lately. It was enough to make any red-blooded American predator feel like a washed-up old prom queen.
Schaefer’s 1993 Valentine was right in character:
Nor was Schaefer far from Danny Rolling’s thoughts:
I had the most unpleasant luck of running into Schaefer the other day. Clink… clink… rattle… rattle… I was doing the chain-shackle-shuffle down the long hall escorted by Sergeant So-&-So… when lo & behold… there he was standing in line waiting to file into his wing. He flashed that sickening smile of his at me and lifted a folder containing some of his recent achievements, waving them at me like we were old pals or something. Clink… clink… rattle… rattle… struggling along. I just stared bloody daggers through him and let the hatred show.
This guy has got real problems, doesn’t he? Schaefer is a little too full of himself and we can easily figure out the content of substance he is filled with. It smells like something pooling in a sewage treatment plant. I can understand why you got physically ill reading Schaefer’s twisted and delusioned writings. The sample you sent me left a real bitter taste in my mouth.
I wouldn’t worry about that wimp if I was you. He is just a spooky little punk who gets his kicks out of intimidating people. He’s a bluffer. He wants anyone who has the displeasure of entertaining him to believe he holds a full house, but if you call his bluff, you’ll find he only has a pair of deuces — two pitiful excuses for being barely human.
He boasts he is ‘The Greatest Killer of Women This Century.’ How could anyone blatantly brag about such a thing? All the suffering and pain he claims to be responsible for… and he actually gloats? ‘I loved killing whores.’ What an awful self-professed statement!
But more unkindly cuts were in store for Schaefer. On November 11, 1994, he filed this touching pleading with a Florida court that had already dismissed his latest lawsuit against me:
While working in the prison law library Plaintiff was attacked by another inmate and stabbed repeatedly in and about the face, body and hands. Due to the trauma sustained incidental to this attack, Plaintiff is now unable to prosecute his appeal; therefore Plaintiff withdraws the appeal in this case.
I was so moved I almost sent the poor guy a sympathy card. A few days later, Danny Rolling reported from Death Row:
Schaefer is having big time problems. He is on everyone’s shit list here at FSP, and I mean literally. This past week, he has had shit and piss thrown at him — he got one hell of an ass-whooping — and to top it off, his cell was set on fire TWICE. Everything he owned got burned up, and what wasn’t, got ruined by oil and water spewn from the sprinkler system.
I have recently learned a great deal about Schaefer from solid cons who know what a RAT and PAIN FREAK he is. Also, he is a manipulating SNITCH, and has been for a long time.
Just thought you’d like to know the ole asshole is having a rough go of it. But then again, Schaefer might be enjoying himself.
I mean, masochists enjoy drinking piss, eating shit, and getting their asses kicked. Don’t they?
The situation apparently had its origins a few years back when the legal beagle was helping an inmate fight a murder charge. Soon after he got the killer to tell him the location of the body, that highly sensitive confidential information wound up in the hands of the prosecution, who used it to move Schaefer’s client from population to Death Row.
So now Schaefer had offered to help another killer with his appeals. This time the prisoner told Schaefer that he had already contracted with a team of jailhouse lawyers. So when Schaefer offered to do the job for free, it did not sit too well with the two displaced lawyers, who happened to be pretty tough characters in their own right. Considered stand-up cons, they made sure the word went out about Schaefer’s past and present betrayals of the prisoners he had pretended to help. So when the brutal barristers filed their objections to the interloper’s pleadings with their shivs, criminal justice was affirmed as they received the unanimous moral support of the entire prison population, a rare solidarity traditionally commemorated with excremental salutes and bonfires.
“Yep, Schaefer’s running scared now, looking over his shoulder,” observed one prison insider. “He’s one step ahead of the flames.”