Vonda Pelto Enters Serial Killer Cuckooland:
Chapter 18, James Munro: The Man Without a Conscience. Excerpt from Without Remorse: The Story of the Woman Who Kept Los Angeles’ Serial Killers Alive
A Rude Awakening: When Vonda first showed up at Los Angeles Men’s Central she was what must be called a “nice gal” brought up in a nice religious family; she was about dipped in three bath of bovine scatology that would change her life. Read this chilling account of her first walk on the cell block where the serial killers resided from Vonda Pelto’s Without Remorse: The Story of the Woman Who Kept Los Angeles’ Serial Killers Alive.
Ron encouraged me to take time to prepare for the next Board exams, but so far the books were getting dusty piled high on the beat-up file cabinet in the corner of my office. Problem was, there wasn’t any free time, too many inmates to see. An even bigger problem was that the jail was overwhelming and it was difficult to keep my mind focused on subject matter that didn’t have any relevance to my job, or to my life. Who gives a damn about how the hairs in our ears conduct sound when you’re trying to figure out how to keep a serial killer alive?
My next chance at the Boards would be coming up shortly, and my anxiety was already building.
Later in the week, I walked down the hall to Jim Munro’s cell, to check on him. Rounding the corner, I had to sidestep a gang of inmates down on their hands and knees polishing the cement floor. The floors were cleaned and polished, and the walls were scrubbed weekly, but none of these efforts reduced the stench.
“Hey, baby, you want to get it on?” I realized I was shaking, scared one of them might reach out and grab me. At that point, I figured they couldn’t use me as a hostage to escape but
they could severely injure me. There were no deputies in sight. They were probably down flirting with the nurses.
Peering into the cells as I walked down the hallway, I saw inmates dressed in their underwear, sleeping on the hard metal cots with their legs pulled up in fetal positions. One was sitting on the toilet, watching me as I watched him. Others were pacing around their cells like caged animals.
a gay roommate in his cell. Munro used the phones outside my office on a regular basis,
and always poked his head in like an old friend to say “hi.”
I tapped on the window to get his attention. He smiled and came to the door. I yelled, “I’m here to see how you’re doing.”
“I’m doin’ okay. Not barfin’ or drizzlin’ the shits. Think I can see you today? I gotta lot of stuff on my mind, and I’m real stressed out.”
“Let me set it up.” After returning to my office, I contacted a deputy and asked him to break Munro out. Sat down and slipped off my shoes to wait for him. I knew little about his part in the Freeway Killings, only knew that the crimes involved boys being sodomized, mutilated, tortured, and killed.
Twenty minutes later the tall, pale I/M arrived. Munro didn’t appear capable of the horrendous acts he had plead guilty to. Younger looking than his twenty years with a gaunt face, wearing a jail jumpsuit that hung on his skinny frame like an oversized clothes bag.
“You want him cuffed?” the deputy asked already pulling out the restraints.
Munro looked sweet and innocent, but I didn’t know him and wasn’t willing to take any chances.
“Yes, please.” I wasn’t comfortable meeting the inmates in my office without the handcuffs, even if they provided only minimal restraint. Then I thought about Ken who was in and out
of my office all the time with no restraints. I saw so much of him that he seemed like an old friend.
James Michael Munro walked slowly to the chair, his footsteps barely audible. Standing waiting for the deputy to nod to sit down. Upon the signal, he dropped into the chair automatically
extending his arms.
In the meantime, I fumbled in my desk for a pen; I scribbled on a piece of scratch paper and found it was dry. I grabbed another pen and scribbled again. It took another try before I found one that worked. Munro watched this process with a slight smile as if he wanted to make a comment about government-issue equipment, but stayed mute. I set aside the manila chart with Munro’s booking number neatly typed in the upper right hand corner and placed the Intake Form directly in front of me. Looking past the man slumped in the chair, I spoke directly to the deputy standing behind him.
“You going to be around?”
“Sure, if you need me. I’ll be out in the hall.” He gave me a knowing smile and just before he disappeared, he closed the bottom half of the Dutch door and pushed the top half wide open.
“My name is Dr. Pelto; I’m a psychologist. Do you mind if I call you Jim?” He smiled and nodded. “No problem, ma’am. That’s my name.” His accent was Midwestern.
“I’ll be available to talk with you whenever you’re feeling down. Just let a deputy know and he’ll contact me. Now, I need to open a file for our records. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” He gave me an incredulous look. “Why would you do that? You gonna tell the D.A. what I’m telling you?”
“No, I won’t be talking to your attorney or D.A. or anyone connected with your case. But we won’t have any privacy.” He seemed apprehensive and reluctant to talk, so I tried to choose my
“Don’t tell me anything you need to keep secret. This is not a therapy session….” I gave him my canned spiel about lack of confidentiality. “The Mental Health and Sheriff’s departments
are concerned about you and want you to have some emotional support.”
“Emotional support? Wanna I need that for?”
“Someone you can talk to whenever you need to.” I was purposely vague and hoped my brief explanation would satisfy him, not wanting to tell him we were only concerned he might
kill himself and that the Mental Health Department, the City and County of Los Angeles, and the state of California would be embarrassed again. And my job might be on the line. Munro
responded with a blank stare.
I learned from his probation report that he had moved from St. Clair, Michigan to Los Angeles two years earlier.
“I was about eighteen when I hitchhiked out from Michigan. I was gonna meet up with a friend and ended up living on the streets ‘cause I never connected with him.”
“How did you make a living?”
“Hell, I was making ‘bout two, maybe three hundred a night fuckin’ my brains out…. Oh, ma’am, excuse my language.”
“It’s okay.” I smiled inwardly. This young killer was worried about offending me with his language. He didn’t realize it was his murderous behavior that I found offensive.
“Well anyways, I’m bisexual, so I was fuckin’ jus’ anybody who’d come along and had the bread to pay for it. I finally gotta ‘bout enough to get a place of my own, and I got rolled. Some asshole got to me when I was sleeping and stole all my dough.
“I met Bonin when he was trying to pick up a trick. He axed me if I’d like go to his house and do a little butt fuckin’ with him. I didn’t know him and shit, man, I wasn’t in to giving it away. I had to make me some more bread so I could get me a place, so at first I told him no.”
“You did go with him eventually, didn’t you?” Suddenly, it was as if a dam burst. Munro began to spill his guts with little prodding from me. He was eager to have someone listen to his pent up feelings and what I assumed was his guilt over being a participant in Bonin’s killing spree.
“Yeah, well, Bonin, he sez he lives with his mom and brother over in Downey. I stood there thinking. Hell, I thought ‘bout it and I jus’ figured anybody who lived with his folks couldn’t be all bad. So I sez, ‘sure,’ and I grabbed my stuff and went over to his place.
“Billy, he was real good to me, gave me his van to drive and got me a truck driving job where he worked. His mom was a real good cook and it seemed alright with her that I bunked in. Billy and me had some sex together for a while, you know, like I’d suck him off or let him stick it up my ass, but then after a while I tol’ him I was really inta girls and he sez ‘okay.’ I even got engaged to a girl over in Long Beach one time.
“Billy and me’d go up to Hollywood Boulevard sometimes and pick up some dude to party with. That way Billy got all the butt fuckin’ he wanted without me having to do it.”
“What was it like living with Bonin?” I asked.
“Well, ever’ day we jus’ got up and went ta work and then at night we jus’ come home again. It weren’t nothin’ very excitin’. Then one day Billy sez, ‘Do you wanna go out and pick up a hitchhiker and have sex with him and kill him?’ Shit man, I was shocked, but I thought he was jus’ kiddin’, so I sez, ‘sure.’ I didn’t want him to think I was some kinda pussy.
“Next night, we get home from work and Billy sez, let’s go.’ I didn’t believe he was really gonna do it, you know—kill somebody. So I sez, ‘no problemo.’ I figure he was jus’ seein’ what I’d say.”
“You did go along with him,” I said.
“Well, yeah! But shit I didn’t know what he was gonna do. Next thing I know, we go out and get into his big green bomb and take off. Billy’s drivin’. He reaches out and puts the radio on one uh those shit kickin’ western music stations and he jus’ starts singin’ away. He’s soundin’ real happy. Guess it was ‘bout five-thirty, and since it was June it was still light out.
“We drives over to Hollywood Boulevard to do some crusin’. We drive up and down several times, lookin’ for young dudes hitchin’ or jus’ standin’, waitin’ for a trick to come ‘long so’s they can make some bread. Billy tol’ me to be on the lookout for a good one. He was still talkin’ about findin’ someone and doin’ him and then killin’ him.
“‘Hey, Billy,’ I sez, ‘there’s a kid over there on the right side of the street hitchin’. You wanna check him out?’ So Billy pulls over to the curb and calls the kid over.
“‘Hey, you wanna make a little money?’ Billy sez to the kid. ‘Sure, what do I have to do?’ ‘I was wonderin’ about you and me and my friend, Jim here, going’ over to my house to have a little sex party and then get somethin’ to eat. You up fer it?’
“Billy was smilin’ and soundin’ real friendly to the kid. Then he axed him what he thought about gays. He always axed ‘em ‘bout that. Kid said he was bisexual, so it didn’t matter to him.
“At first this kid, he seemed kinda nervous. I didn’t think he was gonna go with us. Ol’ Billy’s smart, though. He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a twen’y. Then he waves it at the kid. Man, that kid lights up like a rocket and steps closer to the van for the dough. ‘Hold on,’ Billy says. ‘Let’s go for a little ride and have some fun first, then he leans over to me real quiet like and tells me to drive, ‘cause he’s gonna get in the back for a little suckin’ and blowin’.
He swings down out of the van, callin’ to the kid to come over and get in. He waited real patient like for the kid to walk to the door and look around in the van before climin’ in. Then Billy crawled in after him.
“I was kinda nervous, but I didn’t let on. While I slid over to the driver’s side, I was thinkin’ to myself: Maybe he’s jus’ tryin’ to shock me to see what I’d do. But then I sez to myself, well, maybe he really is gonna kill this here kid.”
I looked up to see a deputy peering in at us.
“You okay, Pelto?” I looked up to see a deputy peering in at us.
“Yes, thanks. Any chance of getting some coffee?”
“Sure, I’ll send a trustee over to see what you want.”
“Let’s take a break until we get our coffee.” I needed a break. I glanced down at my watch; eleven o’clock. I wasn’t interested in the time; I just wanted something to do while we waited for the trustee. I opened my top drawer and rearranged my paper clips out of Munro’s vision to avoid eye contact.
When the trustee arrived, Munro ordered a cadillac, and I had my usual john wayne. The inmate returned shortly with the two coffees in Styrofoam, and a few cookies. I took a sip which set my stomach burning. I nodded for Munro to continue.
“It was gettin’ dark, so I figured I’d head the van on back to Downey. I heard Billy call the kid Steve, so I figured they was gettin’ real friendly. Then the kid screamed out real loud. Billy musta done him a fast shot up the ass. See, Billy, he really got off on that. I don’t go for ass-fuckin’ that much; it hurts like hell. What I like is pullin’ a train.”
Munro must have read the confused look on my face. “Ya know, pullin’ a train, suckin’ cock.” I tried for a face devoid of surprise, but didn’t know if I succeeded. Munro grinned at me, exposing yellow teeth.
“I wanted Billy to trade me places so I could get a turn at the kid, but he tol’ me I
had to keep drivin’. Shit man, they was really doin’ it back there. The van was kinda bouncin’. All that breathin’ and groanin’ got me to havin’ a hard-on myself. I wanted ta have a little fun, too. Shit, man, I wanted to get back to the house so I could shoot my wad.” My jaws were aching from clenching my teeth.
“It was full dark by the time we got back to Downey. I pulled right up to the house ‘cause Billy’s folks was outta town for the weekend.
‘‘You hungry, Steve?’” Billy axed the kid. I figured he didn’t want any trouble gettin’ him into the house. Billy knew ‘bout doin’ that kinda thing, you know, to make you feel safe and that nothin’ bad was gonna happen to you.
“‘Yeah,’ this here kid sez. ‘I ain’t had nothin’ to eat all day.’
“‘Cept y cock,’ Billy sez, laughin’.
“So he sent me off to get some burgers. Shit, I was driving down the street and pulled over to grab a tape out of the glove compartment when this here cop flashed me the red light and
pulled up behind me. He wanted to see my license. Shit, all I had was a learner’s permit. He tol’ me I shouldn’t be drivin’ unless I had a licensed driver with me and to get back home. After he pulled off, I went on down anyways and got the burgers.”
Tragic, I thought, how close the police were and didn’t know what was about to happen.
“When I got back to the house, they was undressed and really goin’ at it. Whoopin’ and hollerin’! I wanted to go in there, too, but I was hungry and wanted to eat my burgers before they was cold. I could hear ‘em real good ‘cause they were doin’ it in Billy’s mom’s bedroom and that’s real close to the livin’ room where I hunkered down to watch some cartoons. I could hear ‘em gruntin’ and the bed springs squeakin’. I felt kinda left out, but I figured I’d get my
I felt disgusted by Munro’s matter-of-fact attitude then reminded myself to remain nonjudgmental.
“Billy come out to the livin’ room door and told me to come inta the bedroom.
“‘Stephen,’ Billy sez, ‘I got this here friend, who likes to have anal sex with a guy that’s hogtied and naked. This guy is willing to pay up to two hundred bucks for it. What do you think? Can you use some extra cash?’” The atmosphe re in my office took on a sense of unreality.
Munro’s story was both appalling and riveting. Something in our emotional make-up fascinates us with tragedy. We crane our necks driving past traffic accidents looking for crash victims; pay money to see car races, more excited by crashes; and attend circuses to watch flyers on the high trapeze. We are voyeurs! I took a sip of coffee and found it had turned cold. With my
stomach burning, I swallowed the caffeine.
Jim’s voice continued in his matter-of-fact tone, as he explained how cleverly Bonin talked Stephen Wells into being tied up.
“All of a sudden, the kid starts to yell and wiggle around. Guess he was gettin’ scared and changin’ his mind. Billy grabbed the kid’s shorts and stuffed ‘em in his mouth. Then he cinched up the rope from the ankles to the hands so the kid was kinda bow shaped. He was kinda funny lookin’ with those shorts hangin’ outta his mouth.”
I watched Munro’s eyes, bright and shiny as he relived the murder and could not detect any since of guilt or shame in either his affect or tone of voice. This was a game to him.
Stephen Wells was an inanimate object to them.
“Billy told me to take the kid’s legs while he grabbed his shoulders, so we could carry him out to the hallway. I almost stumbled over the guy’s clothes layin’ on the floor. I was bummed ‘cuz I could hear the sound of my favorite show comin’ from the livin’ room, and I still hadn’t got any sex or nothin’, and now I had to help Billy carry this dumb ass kid all over the fuckin’ place.
“‘Jimmy,’ Billy sez, ‘let’s go in the kitchen; I need a drink of water.’
“We walks down the hall to the kitchen. And I sez, ‘When’s the guy comin’ over to butt fuck him?’ Billy sez, ‘What guy?’ “I thought someone was comin’ over to corn-hole him, and
that’s why we hogtied him.’
“‘Nah, that was just so we could get him tied up without too much trouble.’
“So, I sez, ‘Well, when’re we gonna let him go, then? We ain’t really gonna kill him, are we?’
“Billy sez, ‘What else can we do? We don’t have no choice. We gotta kill him now, ‘cuz he knows where I live. I can’t have no witnesses.’
“We goes back in the hall and Billy hits the kid in the chest with his fist, sayin, ‘you’re gonna do what I tell you to do.’
“Somehow the kid spit the shorts out and now he’s screamin’ and cryin’ and beggin’ us not to kill him. ‘Please let me go’, the kid’s yellin’. ‘I’ll give you anything you want if you just let me go, please, please don’t kill me.’
“I looked over at Billy, he’s just smilin’. Then he went back into the bedroom and got the kid’s wallet out of his pants and emptied it. When he come back, he sez to the kid, ‘I’m just gonna knock you out, put your clothes back on you, and then leave you on a park bench somewhere.’ Then he puts the kid’s T‑shirt over his head and ‘round his neck. He told me to hold his feet.
“Shit, what could I do? I didn’t wanna make Billy mad cause he might kill me. So I bend over and grab his feet, kinda hurt my back. Billy starts tightening the shirt; he’s twistin’ and pullin’ it. Kid’s wigglin’ an strugglin’, makin’ these awful gaggin’ and gruntin’ noises. Almost made me barf. The kid just kept wigglin’ and makin’ these weird noises.
“‘Billy,’ I sez, he’s jumpin’ ‘round too much. I can’t hold him no more.’
“‘You got to, I can’t stop now.’ Billy just kept twistin’ and twistin’ and pullin. Shit, I was gettin’ really tired. That was hard work. Then I heard this noise like somethin’ snapin,’ and the kid was all limp.
“‘What happened? Is he dead or somethin’?’
“Billy kinda laughed and said, ‘Yeah, stupid.’ Then he pulled off the T‑shirt and threw it down the hall.
“‘Yuk!’ I sez. The kid’s face was all kinda purple and puffy; he looked awful.
“Billy laughs and sez, ‘you’d look that way too if you’d just been strangled. Haven’t you ever seen a dead body before?’”
James Munro looked squarely at me with a toothy grin—he enjoyed having an audience.
I tapped my fingernails quietly on the desk to steady my nerves, feeling sick to my stomach.
It was a struggle to keep my face devoid of emotion. Munro, unaware of my reaction, continued his story.
“No way I was gonna admit I hadn’t never seen a dead body before, so I jus’ shrugged like it was no big deal and sez, ‘so what’re we gonna do with him now?’
“Billy tells me to go and get a cardboard box ‘cause we’re gonna take the dude for a ride.
“I headed outside where it was dark with a little breeze. Felt good to be out, ‘cuz I really worked up a sweat tryin’ to hold that dude down while Billy choked him. I wasn’t in no hurry to get back
in the house with that dead guy in there; he was real disgustin’ lookin’, and he stunk real bad.
“I leaned against the van and began to feel a little nervous myself ‘cuz I didn’t know if Billy might think he had to kill me now, too. I decided first chance I got, maybe I should hit the road.
“I guess I was takin’ too long, ‘cuz Billy comes to the side door and starts yellin’ at me to get my ass back in there and get the box out of his brother’s room.
“When I get back, draggin’ the box, Billys back in the hall, jus’ standin’ there, lookin’ down at the kid and smilin’.
“‘Untie him, and help me get him into the box,’ Billy sez.
“Shit man, I was gettin’ tired of Billy orderin’ me around, but I’m scared and don’t want to end up like the kid, so I sat down on my haunches and tried to untie the knots. I couldn’t get
‘em undone ‘cuz he had struggled so much the cord cut into his wrists and ankles. I go off to the kitchen and get a knife to cut the cords loose. I nicked him a bunch of times but he was past noticin’. I didn’t like touchin’ the dead kid, but I had to get the ropes off.
“Billy tells me to pick up his feet so we can get him into the box.
“I reach down there, and geez that slug has pissed and shit all over himself and he’s really stinkin’, and I can see it dribbled all over him. Man, talk about disgustin’. I tried to grab his legs
without gettin’ shit all over me, but his legs was slippery and I couldn’t get a good hold. I dropped him, and he sorta slid around in the crud on the floor.
“Billy’s laughin’ at me. I didn’t think it was funny. Finally, we drop him in the box with his feet stickin’ up.
“Billy tells me to go out and back the van into the driveway so’s we can carry him out the kitchen door into the van without no one seein’.
“When I get back, Billy’s got the box waitin’ for me where he slid it across the kitchen floor, and we gotta muscle it into the back of the van like we was carryin’ a TV or somethin’. That sonofabitch was real heavy to carry.
“Billy grabs the keys and sez he’ll drive. Didn’t even give me time to wash the shit off my hands or turn off the TV in the livin’ room. Billy was in some big honkin’ hurry.”
My jaws were aching now from clenching my teeth. I stretched and wiggled my feet under the desk to try to release some tension. Munro was watching me, enjoying my attention.
“Where we goin’?” I axed him.
“‘We’re goin’ over to Vern’s house,’ Billy sez.
“I hadn’t met Vernon before, but I knew he and Billy liked to play Dungeons and Dragons with a bunch of other dudes. But they played it for real, like they would really kill the guys.
“Billy drove us over to Vernon Butts’ house, singin’ all the way. Took us bout twen’y minutes over to Lakewood, where Vern lives. Billy had tol’ me they was good ol’ buddies. Said he met Butts at a bowlin’ alley shortly after Billy got out of jail the last time. Said Vernon was the one that got him inta killin’ kids.
“When we get there, the house looks deserted. Looks like blackout shades on the windows. We back into the drive anyways, and as soon as I open my door I can hear acid rock music comin’ outta the house.
“‘He’s home,’ Billy sez, ‘go knock on the back door.’
“By the time Vernon opened the door, Billy had come up beside me and we went right in.
“Shit, Doc! You shoulda been there.” Munro looked at me and slapped his free hand on the desk.
“You shoulda’ seen him. This here guy is all dressed up like Darth Vader, out of Star Wars, with a black hood and cape and ever’thin! We follow him inta the livin’ room and he’s got these here great red and blue and purple strobe lights flashin’ in time with the music. He has a bitchin’ sound system.” Had, I thought. Had! Vernon Butts was dead. Vernon Butts’ suicide was the reason I was here, listening to this now.
“All the shades was drawn down. It was bitchin’. The furniture was shit, but Vern, he had this great fuckin’ coffin right there in the middle of the livin’ room. Billy tol’ me later, that’s where he saw Vern fuck a boy one night.
“Billy was all ‘cited and talkin’ real fast to Vern, tellin’ him ever ‘thin’ we done. They was laughin’ their heads off. Then Billy sez, ‘We got it out in the back of the van; it’s a good one. Come on out and see it.’
“Vern gave us a couple of brews and then sez, ‘Let’s go see the stiff.’ He sweeps past me, across the room with his black robes flyin’ out behind him. We follow him back outside. I pull open the van doors and get back outta the way. They crowd into the back and Vern leans over and pokes at the kid. Then he sez ‘Great job, Billy, you really did good.’
“I stayed back cause I didn’t need to see it again. Then we stood ‘round a while longer ‘til Billy axes what we should do with the kid’s body. Vern sez, ‘Just drop it off somewhere along the freeway, unless you wanna keep it around for a while to remind you of what a good job you did. You guys really did a good one tonight; I’m proud of you.’
“Billy sez he don’t wanna keep the body, ‘cause he can always get him another one. Ol’ Vern and me laughed cause we thought that was pretty funny.
“We piled back in the van and headed down toward the beach. I had to open my
window ‘cause the place was really beginin’ to stink. We went past a cop on our way and Billy sez to him, quiet like. ‘Hey, mista pig man, you oughtta see what we got here.’
Then he laughed and laughed. But he drove real careful, so we wouldn’t get stopped. We cruised down Pacific Coast Highway to Huntington Beach.
“We found this here closed gas station. Billy sez, ‘That’s perfect.’ He drives over there and pulls to a stop behind it. After we take a piss and look around to make sure no one sees us, we unload the kid and leave him behind the station.
“Billy sez to me, ‘We’ve had a good night; let’s head home.’” Stephen Wells was trusting and so naïve. If only he had run at that time, he would still be alive at home, safe with his parents. My daughters’ faces flashed before me. I prayed they had learned to be cautious. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose one of them—especially the way Stephen Wells was lost to his parents.
When Deanne was a senior in high school, she had a very serious car accident. She and a girlfriend had gone to lunch at the local park. When she pulled back onto the main road, she
was broad-sided by an oncoming driver. I have never been so frightened in all of my life. I came face to face with my fear that something horrible could happen to one of my children. I didn’t
think I would want to live if one was lost to me. During the forty-five minutes it took me to drive to the hospital, I was on the verge of panic. When the nurse finally let me see Deanne, I began sobbing uncontrollably. Her femur was broken, which was serious, but not life threatening. My mother said, “No parent should ever lose a child.” I can only partially feel what Stephen Wells’ parents felt when the police showed up on their doorstep and took them to identify their child’s dead body.
“Dr. Pelto, are you about finished with Munro?” I nodded yes. Deputy Gonzales’ welcome face looked in. I didn’t know if he had been outside listening, or just happened
to be walking by—I just knew that I appreciated his timing. I was ready for James Munro to be out of my office. His callousness was making me sick.
“Yes, please take him back to his cell.”
“I ain’t really done yet,” Munro pouted. “I still gotta lots stuff I want to talk to you about, Doc.”
”I think this is enough for today,” I said. There were no symptoms of depression or suicidal ideation in Munro. “We’ll have plenty of time to talk some more,” I told him. “Let’s not try to get it all done in one day.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right, Doc.” I wanted him out of my office. Munro was emotionally dependent and not bright. Bonin didn’t have any trouble getting Munro to go along with the killing; he took advantage of Munro’s weaknesses. I wondered about Jim’s culpability in the crime. But I sure as hell wasn’t going to say anything to anyone.
Munro smiled as the deputy got out his key to release the cuffs.
I looked down at the file, trying to remind myself that Munro was part of the human race. He loved relieving the murder. I closed the manila folder, put it in my
top drawer, and sat quietly watching Deputy Gonzales release the cuff on Munro’s arm.
This had felt like watching a horror film—as though the whole scene was only the creation of a screenwriter’s fertile imagination. Munro stood by the chair and stretched. He rubbed his wrist
where the cuff had left a red mark and turned slowly to walk away.
At the door, he paused and turned to look back at me. “Nice talkin’ to you, lady. Hope I can see you again real soon.”
During the time that Wells was being killed, the police department was setting up a surveillance team to watch Bonin’s house located at 10802 Angel Street in Downey. The team arrived
one hour before Munro and Bonin returned home after dumping Stephen Wells’ body behind the filling station in Huntington Beach.
I had studied case histories of psychopathics and sociopaths in textbooks, people
who have no conscience or empathy for other people. Now, academic theory was reality. Munro was a classic psychopath, detached from the youth’s suffering, but acutely aware of his own:
He wasn’t getting any of the sex; he was missing his favorite TV show; he was hungry and didn’t get to eat; he had to dirty his hands when they lifted Stephen Wells’ lifeless body into a box; he
was afraid Billy might turn on him. Totally narcissistic!
I got up, leaned over and tried to touch my toes, without even getting close. I stood up again, took some deep breaths, and tried to decide whether or not I was going to throw up. Just in case, I headed down to the bathroom to wash my face. I had to disengage from the horror and inhumanity of this killer.
“Autumn Leaves” was playing. My body felt agitated and on edge. I passed Ron’s office and saw him sitting hunched over his desk. I thought about going in to talk with him and decided I didn’t want to relive the crime. I walked quietly past in my rubber-soled shoes and entered the FOP unit, going directly into the bathroom.
I looked in the mirror. I didn’t look any different, but I sure as hell felt different.
“Hi, Vonda.” I turned toward the voice. Sherry had entered the bathroom to find me wiping my face with a wet paper towel.
“Hey, little buckaroo, you okay?” She was mothering me, even though she was my age.
“I’m not sure. Just interviewed James Munro, one of the Freeways. He described in detail how he and Bonin killed a young boy. I don’t know if I can stand continuing to work with these
assholes.” Sherry smiled sympathetically and shook her head.
“Sweetie, you’ve got to get stronger. If you don’t toughen up, you won’t make it in here. All of us have gone through the process. In time, you learn to separate out from all of this. Just don’t let yourself feel sorry for any of these fuckers.” I kept the towel over my face, embarrassed.
“When I hired on seven years ago, I felt sorry for some of the young bastards and they manipulated me. They’re clever. They’ll take advantage of you, especially if they think you feel sorry for them. You’ve got to depersonalize these creeps in order to do your job.”
This idea went against all of my training. My education placed a great deal of emphasis on having an empathetic, nonjudgmental attitude. Did I want to dehumanize these men in order to work in this job? Wouldn’t I become just like them?
“They’ll beg you to get them cigarettes or make phone calls and try to make you feel guilty for not meeting their needs. You got to learn to protect yourself.” I nodded, because I knew she was right, but it didn’t feel comfortable to me.
“We call whites 01s, blacks 02s, Mexicans and Asians 03s, and the mentally ill dings ‘cause these labels help us depersonalize them.” Munro and Bonin had depersonalized Stephen Wells by calling him “it” or “kid.” Now I was learning to do the same. I dried my face, tossed the paper towel in the trash, and gave Sherry half a smile.
“Now,” she said, “are you ready to go down and face the blue plate special, AKA the mystery food, in the ODR?” I had to laugh. “After this today, I can face almost anything—except, maybe, the stew.”