Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Now Playing: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - Just Like You and Still Gone (Gone Girl OST)

A few years ago, I accidentally pirated Michael Newton's Encyclopedia of Serial Killers.

Accidentally, I swear! I think I was looking up general PDF articles about serial killers and then found the entire book on a sketchy website.

Up until that point, I hadn't had an organized collection of infamous serial killers to reference back to, just random tidbits I found off of Wikipedia pages. (The closest starting point I've ever gotten was this Wiki entry, which was a favorite page of mine).

Back in high school, I carried my laptops around to take notes during all high school and college classes, but because I typed so fast, I usually got information down at a faster rate than my pen-and-paper peers. I would then do the incredibly idiotic thing of ignoring about 50% of the lecture to either write my own stuff or read whatever I had in my computer. During periods of utter boredom, the Encyclopedia came to my rescue.

I do feel terrible for pirating it--especially knowing the state of the publishing industry now--but, uh, I bought it a few years later and have it here. Hopefully that earns me some forgiveness D:

Anyways, back then, I only read chunks and pieces of it. This time, I'm putting forth genuine effort to read the whole thing start to finish. It's actually not that massive. Since I'm planning to read King's The Stand (unabridged) and Sanderson's The Way of Kings, Newton's Encyclopedia has been positively dwarfed in comparison.

That said, I'm not rushing, so it might take a while. I want to try and remember as much information as possible.

For years now I've thought about the opening sentence for Luis Garavito's entry. As soon as I got the printed book, I double checked it. It was just as I remembered:
"Colombia is one of the world's most violent nations, renowned for its drug wars and narco-terrorism, political upheavals, public assassinations, and random acts of mayhem." (page 89)

Garavito and Pedro Alonso López (both from Colombia) have fascinated me for years, especially when I was younger and was just starting to become fixated on the subject. When I was very, very young, my father told me about, "el Monstruo de los Andes." (I can't remember the context of the conversation, sadly). The Monster of the Andes--a nickname given to López because he operated primarily throughout Peru and Ecuador.

My father told me that, despite the fact that López was caught and then proven to be the killer of hundreds of young girls, there was no way to sufficiently make him pay for his crimes; there is neither a life sentence nor a death penalty in Ecuador. Though he was put through a trail and imprisoned, he was, eventually, freed, and may still be alive.

What other country doesn't have life imprisonment or the death penalty? Colombia, of course.

There are a lot of reasons for this, I'm sure, and though I've never personally investigated it, I've figured it comes down to cost. I know in the United States life imprisonment costs money. The death penalty even more so. Colombia and Ecuador don't have the money for such "luxuries." Combine that with the fact that children--particularly indigenous or street children--so often run away or go missing for an array of circumstances, there's little chance the police will investigate vanished children and link them to a particular murderer. Street children and children of low social class were an easy target for López and Garavito, allowing them to accumulate such high death counts before they were caught.

The other reason why López fascinated me was because of the timeline of his killings. My parents were in their infancy and early childhood during the days that López was targeting indigenous Ecuadorian girls.

The reason why the opening line to Garavito's entry stuck with me is because of how unneeded it felt the first time I read it, like a silly part of my brain had gone "well, of course it is". When I think of Ecuador, of Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Mexico, most of Latin America really, I think of violence and danger. Maybe it's part of the reason I've always had such a weird relationship with my culture. As a child, I grew up with warnings about the dangers of the streets, warnings that might feel downright paranoid to a good chunk of American parents, but warnings that felt instrumental to my and my brother's well-being as children of Ecuador.

In a weird way, we were all privileged. My brother and I grew up in the capital and had relatively comfortable childhoods, safely nuzzled among the upper class. In America, I think we're sufficiently "brown" enough to be recognized as Hispanic. (Or something. I've been asked if I'm Middle Eastern a number of times before). In Ecuador, however, the relative "lightness" of our skin tone marks us in direct opposition to indigenous people. Divisions of class and colorism are problems that plight the country to this day, and though my parents struggled with poverty growing up, their skin color and lineage kept them in a slightly higher class status than indigenous people.

As mentioned, López targeted children of a low social class. Indigenous girls. I often wonder how many children--in Ecuador, South America, around the world--are harmed and exploited without anyone ever knowing the details. And despite my parents' "privileged" status, they've told me of times where danger came close to them, particularly when they were younger and when they were alone. Times when robberies almost went too far. When older men spotted them walking to a bus stop and tried to lure them close.

Growing up, the sentence I've heard the most from my mother has been, "be aware of your surroundings." Since I was old enough to step out of the house without her, even just to cross the street and buy milk from a local store, she's reminded me time and time again that I need to be aware of where I am, who's around me, and any possible dangers. Sometimes I've thought it overtly paranoid of an approach. Other times, I've found it admirable.

I do think it's dangerous to pretend you can "avoid" being a victim. People often try and say that if So-and-So hadn't done X, Y, and Z then this terrible thing wouldn't have happened to them. Which is not just unfair to the victim(s), it's also a thinly veiled attempt to pretend you will never come to harm because you are smarter/faster/stronger.

But I also don't think it's right to pretend you're utterly powerless either. This doesn't mean that you should judge victims in any way. However,I've noticed that--especially in feminist circles--in an attempt to support victims, we sometimes go the other extreme and make it seem like certain tragedies are inevitable.

I see where this comes from--when a heinous crime happens, what do you really gain by torturing those who were hurt? What do you gain by saying, "why didn't you do this differently?"

But I also don't wholly agree with believing terrible things are inevitable.

Back to my mom on this: a few years ago, we were in the car together, driving home, moving slowly through the late afternoon Miami traffic. When we were passing by the train tracks, I felt a sudden wave of discomfort. This weird, chilling feeling that something was wrong and that the source was to my left. I didn't realize it then, but I think I caught movement with the corner of my eye, like the rustling of leaves on a bush.

Before I could even turn, my mom said, "lock the door." She was already looking my way, her eyes narrowed, completely focused. I did as she said and traffic started moving again. As the car crawled forward, I finally saw a disheveled, strange man limping alongside the tracks, slightly obscured by the greenery around him. He was staring out into the street, moving closer.

We drove away and nothing happened. I don't know who the man was or even if he was any danger at all. But in the time I'd picked up a possible threat unconsciously, my mother had registered it consciously.

It's not the only time something like that has happened. And I thought back on it a few months ago because of a Reddit comment. (I know, I know. Not the most insightful site in the world, but hear me out).

On AskReddit, there was a question posed to people who had gone camping or hiking, asking them what might have been the creepiest or strangest occurrence to happen to them whilst out in the woods. A lot of people wrote about terrifying, unexplainable events--too many and too varied to be summarized here.

But I remember one guy wrote about being out in the forest, with a friend, and feeling "off" all of a sudden. Something was terribly wrong and they just needed to go. They didn't see anything, they didn't hear anything, but they just started running, back to safety. Someone else replied that it was very possible their senses had picked up signs of a threat, and though they hadn't had time to really process and identify them, their instinct was already shouting at them to get out of danger.

Whenever I think back to people who escaped a serial killer's trap, they were people who trusted their instincts. Something seemed off--someone was acting strange, something was missing, something wasn't adding up. So it's probable the root of my obsession with serial killers and vanished individuals has a lot to do with reinforcing the idea that, though we can't always prevent tragedy, we can try and be as prepared as possible. And just awareness and instinct can save us.

On the other hand, maybe that's an illusion of power and we can never truly avoid terrible people and their terrible deeds.

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