Mad City, page 1
PRAISE FOR MAD CITY
“Thrilling . . . Ranks among the most important books to rise from the dust of the true-crime explosion.”
—M. William Phelps, host of Dark Minds and New York Times bestselling true crime author
“Written by the internationally renowned criminologist and criminal humanist Michael Arntfield, this book is remarkable in several ways—it provides deep, penetrating insight into the nature of the criminal mind via an eclectic approach, and it sheds light on the kinds of internal pathologies that guide the behavior of many criminals. This is required reading for experts and the general public alike. A truly great read.”
—Marcel Danesi, PhD, Director of the Program in Semiotics and Communication Theory and Professor of Linguistic Anthropology at the University of Toronto
Text copyright © 2017 by Michael Arntfield
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Little A, New York
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Little A are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.
ISBN-13: 9781503942653 (hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1503942651 (hardcover)
ISBN-13: 9781503942646 (paperback)
ISBN-10: 1503942643 (paperback)
Cover design by Rex Bonomelli
For the victims and their families, and for Linda Schulko (née Tomaszewski) and retired Detective Sergeant Pat Postiglione. The latter for reaffirming my faith in police work; the former, my faith in humanity.
Chapter 1 MIDWESTERN GOTHIC
Chapter 2 THE SLEEPWATCHER
Chapter 3 STERLING HALL
Chapter 4 POSTAGE PAID
Chapter 5 PERMAFROST
Chapter 6 THE VANISHING HITCHHIKER
Chapter 7 DEADFALL
Chapter 8 GATE 4
Chapter 9 RURAL ROUTE
Chapter 10 SCATTERED ASHES
AUTHOR’S NOTE ON NAMES
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
There is no heaven but revenge.
—Thomas Nashe, The Unfortunate Traveller
March 28, 1979
The dash clock read 10:56 a.m. The meter read $8.75. She flipped the driver a ten spot and told him to keep the change. The ingrate drove off muttering a backhanded “Thanks, lady.” Typical fare.
She looked up to see a sign bearing due east: CABLE TV. AIR CONDITIONING. HOURLY RATES. Across the street, two more signs, opposite lots. To the north: REPENT. To the south: ALL DAY BREAKFAST. She pulled a battered take-out menu from her back pocket to double-check that this was the place. The menu was a relic of her last overnight stop, a sad travelogue of the last six weeks on the road from Michigan to Arizona—an impromptu scratch pad. The face of the pamphlet read, GREAT WALL CHINESE DINER, YPSILANTI, MI. That was then. Beneath the delivery number was an address scribbled in blue ballpoint—this address. She’d had to hole up in some seedy joints before, while throwing good years after bad, but this one took the cake and then some. This was now.
In the other pocket, a Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce brochure—glossy to the max—with page 8 dog-eared, the panoramic city vista on page 1 not looking like much of anything she’d seen since breaching the city limits. It was, after all, where the road led, where he—the monster—had fled. He was circuitously retracing the same route he took from ’65 to ’68 before dropping anchor in the Mad City. Before it happened. Back on an I-40 off-ramp, her Chevy Malibu Classic—bronze on midnight black—half off the road, half on. Two Michelins straddled the fog line, the hood propped, the rad blown. She’d hit the Chamber just before closing time after thumbing a ride downtown from near the interchange the day prior. She’d glommed the complimentary mag from a spinning four-sider at the counter on her way out, studying it at an all-night diner within walking distance until first light. Page 1 was a typical bait-and-switch tourist trap skyline scam. But page 8 was pure pay dirt—Northern Arizona U. He’d go there. He’d have to. His compulsion would lead him back there to hunt. Old hat. Hardwired.
Holding her breath the whole time, she checked into room 214, a one-star “junior suite” bookended by the stairwell on one side and an ice machine on the other. A sign read, OUT OF ORDER. A scan of the room revealed a thirteen-inch DuMont with rabbit ears riveted to a lazy Susan—American Bandstand on mute, left on since who knows when by who knows whom. On the bedside table, an old, wet wipe—desiccated—lay crumpled in an amber ashtray. Beside it, a General Electric clock radio flashed 12:00 a.m. in 3/4 time. Attached to the room door was a fire-escape route map occluded by an unidentifiable stain. Two night chains, three dead bolts. The room balcony was no-man’s-land—a sliding door seized shut since time immemorial. Through the cheesecloth curtain veiling the mildewed security glass, a translucent vista. It was a bird’s-eye view of a pawnbroker kitty-corner to the east, a small bar-windowed storefront. It was local neighborhood color. Its current circumstances also made it something more, an eerie flashback of tragedies past—the Mad City in the spring of ’68. Two Flagstaff PD prowl cars and a morgue wagon sport-parked across the sidewalk attended to a local matter. The street-side cabaret spelled robbery-homicide. She’d seen it before. Beside the prowlers, an unmarked Impala—olive green on parchment brown. A sign on the dash read, OFFICIAL POLICE VEHICLE. A print man in plain clothes carrying an attaché case slouched in the middle of a uniform confab. The coroner stood to the side and chained cigarettes. A pair of sawhorses kept back looky-loos. Yellow crime-scene tape galore.
Fast-forward—same day, high noon plus fifteen minutes. Daytime surveillance outside his west-end bungalow—the monster’s lair. His latest abode scored with fake creds, eerily close to the university campus as usual. A dump of Social Security numbers on the sly by a friend on the inside had kicked loose a known alias on the lease for the place, the details leaked to her while still back in Michigan. By 1:00 p.m., she’d closed to within fifty feet with a fake “lost dog” cover story to avoid suspicion, the whole time eyeballing and then daring to open the mailbox—stuffed to the max. Publishers Clearinghouse and Franklin Mint mailers, a “final notice” from the electric company, a dozen more items with mechanically typed labels. Nothing personal. On the lawn, a pair of Daily Sun daily editions chucked there by a keener paperboy. The monster was AWOL again, gone at least two days. She’d need to follow her intuition and hit the NAU campus library—give or take a twenty-minute walk. Unless he’d blown town for another spot on the map, there’s nowhere else he could be. He’d be there watching, waiting, stalking. She’d stop him this time. She’d have to. It was, after all, her purpose in life, a world shaped by torment and obsession. It was an all-consuming calling—alpha to omega.
On the way now, walking along the most direct route. Out of nowhere, a speed trap came into view. She scoped a motor cop in aviators doing point-and-pulls on the north side of West Franklin. As she passed by on foot, the city band on the cop’s Kawasaki KZP kicked in. The disembodied voice of a shrill dispatcher spewing ten-code and other alphanumeric gobbledygook suddenly reverted to plain English. An “all units” alert went live: “Nuclear emergency in the State of Pennsylvania.” Her ears perked up—anything nuke related in ’79 was a Cold War wire in the blood. On cue, the cop stowed the radar gun, punched the Harley into gear, and sped off hell-bent.
Linda half walked half ran
By 1:40 p.m., Linda touched down on the university campus, the lawns teeming with freaked-out new-wave types variously talking about the meltdown, radiation poisoning, cover-ups, and red scares. It was like UW transplanted from a decade prior except that the men and women were harder to tell apart, the causes to be angry about slightly revised, the clothes a tad baggier. It was the same hot mess of aimless student activism, same prefab rhetoric and defiant verve. Different haircuts. Through a clearing of coeds sprawled out on a contiguous set of tattered afghans—an improvised reefer picnic—she eyeballed a manicured moraine in the distance. Brushing past a girl in a cropped “Blue Oyster Cult ’78” tour shirt, her gangly boyfriend in a denim vest replete with pins—Black Flag, the MC5, the Ramones—Linda made her way to the clearing.
There, over the crest of the hill, she found a walking path crossroad and a sign that read, LIBRARY. The signs on this campus, Linda thought to herself, were in better shape than the ones back at UW. The way the patina of age wrought by a Midwestern winter worked the edges of the letters on signs there and inscribed them with a certain character was notably absent in a campus located smack-dab in a desert oasis, something of a varsity timeshare holiday. Sure enough, like any timeshare, the place had that never-lived-in look, like a model home staged to approximate the nonexistent lives of nonexistent people. It was catalogue perfect—like Christine was before UW. Before he found her. Before it happened.
Now, at the library entrance, double hinged and palatial. On the door on the right, a sign read, USE OTHER DOOR. Inside—the library proper—a montage of every library: stacks upon stacks, Dewey decimals, card drawers, old tables, errant paper airplanes, the white noise of aimless muttering, extraneous coughs, and dragging chairs. A sign at the circulation desk read, QUIET PLEASE and was predictably disavowed wholesale. All the while, Linda made her way toward more interesting fare—the library smoke pit.
In spite of their obvious differences, Linda realized that Flagstaff in ’79 was a transplanted Mad City from ’68, at least in one key respect. You could light up, smoke, and flick ashes just about anywhere—hospitals, day cares, grocery stores, lecture halls, and courthouses—but not in libraries. It was the one and only place on the UW campus where an enforceable sign reading, NO SMOKING was ever treated with any semblance of seriousness. It was that same sign that the monster in a roundabout way had used to make his first move on Christine in the spring of ’68. Smokers as captive audiences for other smokers are inevitably forced to listen, forced to acquiesce to a time-honored social code. The corollary of asking for a light is to ask more questions; the corollary of providing that light is to offer up more answers. The paradoxical subculture of smoking is one that defies, but at the same time strangely upholds, tradition—one that flips off yet simultaneously embraces conformity. Often misleading, contradictory, yet time-honored, answered questions from smokers only beget more questions from other smokers—and even more responses. And so it went. And so it goes.
But in the spring of ’79, like the fall of ’68 when she first starting piecing it all together, no one saw the hunter for what he was—no one, it seems, but Linda. No one but she chased him. No one but she listened. No one but she ever tried—ever. Two dozen one-star detectives were back in Madison, all purportedly “hot on the trail” of the Capital City Killer while Linda—and Linda alone—was the only one after the real killer. He was a serial killer before it became a household term, a media darling, a cottage industry. No one paid any attention. Not then. Not now.
Back inside the library, a dejected Linda—the smoke pit empty. Grasping at straws and days wasted, she beelined for the open space beyond the stacks. If it was like UW, she thought, he also might be trolling near where the librarians kept the daily newspapers, where those same broadsheets hung precariously on dowels away from the more academic fodder. While the stacks drew the bookish types, the dailies were where the dreamers hung out. It was where dreamers like Christine—picturing herself as an enterprising reporter, a cosmopolitan career girl—could find her muse. At all libraries, public and campus alike, the dowels were the breakaway space with comfy chairs where regular folk could drop in to read, see, and be seen. That’s where, after all, Christine was seen—where he saw her. It was where, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the final countdown on her life started. If he was still in Flagstaff, he would be there. Old habits die hard. Compulsions live forever. Christine, his own brother, the family he cut to pieces—they were just the beginning. Ten years later he was now honing his craft—more dangerous than ever. There would be more victims until he was stopped, until he was permanently put out of business one way or another. As the clock back at the circulation desk chimed 2:00 p.m. MT, she thought to herself: like an angel getting its wings, a cop back in Wisconsin just got another electroplated “meritorious service” trophy. They might just make hay out of the Capital City Killer theory forever. In the meantime, she and she alone would chase him.
But while Linda relentlessly gave chase and threaded her way across Middle America and back, little did she know that it was all beginning again, back where it all started—back in the Mad City. The very day she arrived in Flagstaff chasing one killer, sixteen hundred miles away, a young Madisonian was being taken by another—again. Another Madisonian vanishing; another girl on or near the university campus gone into thin air; another missing person presumed dead; another case cold before it started. It was a familiar refrain. History, it seems, was starting over, turning the soil, wreaking havoc. History was sadistic. It was opportunistic. Time melts away but it also refreezes. It liberates some while trapping others beneath the ice—forever. While he was here in Flagstaff, his methods were still back there, on rerun back in the Mad City. It was happening all over again. Eleven years later and the song remained the same.
Before long, a police interagency press conference would be held in Madison to address the latest whodunit—Julie Speerschneider vanishing. It was the latest example of Midwestern witchery that would trigger a flashback to that once fateful spring of ’68. Mental images took form and revealed the sights and sounds of what Linda saw back in May of that year—the sights and sounds of every police conference in Madison that ever was and would be again: off-the-rack jackets and ties, lieutenant’s bars, shorn heads, double-talk, and double-dealing. Faces and names listed brought back caustic memories with a vengeance, disturbing premonitions about what would happen next. “University Avenue,” “unknown male companion,” “hitchhiked,” “out of character.” The details deemed fit to publicly disclose would spell Christine redux but Linda’s sniff test told her copycat—just one of many to come to the Mad City in the monster’s wake. Blood begets blood. Time melts away nothing.
But now, out of time and looking to make her way out of the library—back to the road for the next town on the map as she chased ghosts and stale-dated clues all alone—Linda made a U-turn. She cut left down a dog-legged corridor where a window was throwing in Arizona afternoon sunlight. Once there, it was revealed to be a dead end. It was apropos. It was a revelation that summarized her life’s last ten years. Looking up to her right, a sign on the wall foretold the next ten: NO EXIT.
The evil that men do lives after them.
—William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
Every city, from two-bit hick town to cosmopolitan metropolis, has what might be called a main drag. Or, perhaps, the main drag. Every October 31—that time of year when the Celts once thought that the barrier between the living and the afterlife was at its thinnest, the protective membrane keeping us safe from the spirit world compromised to the point at which some ghouls were able to cross back over—the main boulevard in Madison, Wisconsin, transforms itself into a macabre pedestrian piazza where costumed drunks get their scare on. Of course, what never dawned on the Celts as the creators of All Hallows’ Eve and, by extension, the Madisonians at “Freakfest” on State Street every year is that it’s not the dead who should frighten us: we should be more afraid of the living.
True to form, the annual Freakfest is just one of countless Madison originals that has earned the city its reputation as a quintessentially “mad” place, a locale where eccentricity and idiosyncrasy prevail as being among the city’s marquee qualities. Monikers such as Mad City and Madtown aren’t just catchy abbreviations and truncations of the city’s official name, one coined in honor of founding father and third American president James Madison. Rather, they’re well-earned pseudonyms that appropriately capture—and celebrate—the city’s uniquely unhinged character. These pseudonyms—not unlike Denver as the “Mile High City” or Birmingham as the “Tragic City”—appropriately underscore Madison’s distinct and precarious position in the American landscape and national conscience at once. It’s not only a place seated along a picturesque isthmus and circumscribed by four lakes when viewed on a map from above, but also a place shunted squarely in the mouth of madness once you’re actually on the ground. As time and space battle it out, Madison is a city surrounded by reality on all sides yet still defined by a certain surrealism. It is, in fact, less a physical place as much as an idea or metaphysical construct of that same place. It’s an abstraction of America and the requisite American Dream while at the same time, curiously enough, serving as the state capital. Bureaucracy, fantasy, and a conceptual anarchy all occupy the same real estate that was an unlikely urban center to begin with—nineteenth-century swampland in both the literal and figurative sense bought for a song by a federal judge in 1829. The capital city was thus in some sense always destined to be the Mad City, and then some.