Process of Creating a Detailed Serial Killer Bio Instructive
The Twists, Turns, & Surprises During a 5-Year Grind
Trying to envision the snags and complications of writing a detailed historical biography are, well, totally and completely impossible. After Vonda Pelto, Ph.D. wrote her first book, Without Remorse, about her time dealing with over a dozen serial killers, she set her sights on creating a historical biography about one of her charges, the Freeway Killer William ‘Bill’ Bonin.
Her motives for writing the second book, Without Redemption, were based on being given, by a former public official, over 40 boxes of official investigative documents covering Bonin’s entire life, from before birth till execution. Within those docs was a compelling and game-changing surprise: photocopies of Bonin’s handwritten jailhouse diaries and murder confession stories. Written shortly after his final arrest and ending shortly before his first trial, in November 1981, they unveiled reams of data previously unknown to detectives, prosecutors, journalists, researchers and writers.
Process Begins: Having such a massive amount of material, in combination with her personal dealings with Bonin and two of his accomplices, gave Pelto all that was necessary to create a serial killer bio unlike any other. After more than a year of work, in early 2019 author Michael B. Butler was hired to organize and help create the necessary sections to finalize the project. After a few months, Butler told Pelto they had to break the manuscript into small workable sections and begin from square one. She agreed and four years of demanding work began.
Starting Over Again: After the manuscript was broken down into penny packets, the process of organizing all the available documents began. Organized chronologically and by subject matter, this alone took months and in fact continued throughout the whole process. Just getting all the photocopies of Bonin’s diaries and murder stories organized proved a mind numbingly tedious endeavor. Over 400 newspaper articles were mined, printed and organized for easy access when the need arose.
Years of Grinding Away Reading, Writing & Editing:
Collating all the stories together required a keen eye for detail and the ability to decode government speak and shorthand from a variety of reports: i.e., court docs, probation reports, mental health records, prison documents, etc. Surprises popped up at every turn as the authors hashed out details in a usually harmonious but sometimes less than collegial manner. Vonda’s husband, accomplished lawyer Jim Lia, provided invaluable advice on court procedures, legal questions and the manner in which prosecutors and defense attorney’s conduct their business.
Style Points: During this process, Butler continued to read intense historical biographies by British historians such as Andrew Roberts and Paul Johnson, a task which helped him create a quick paced, fact-based narrative that was long on truth and short on wild speculation. When opinions were necessary, they were put forth in logic-based arguments with strong points and shortfalls front and center. Speculating on matters of a serial killer’s mind can be highly subjective and fraught with trap doors.
Last Minute Discovery: But just when the book was all but finished, a lightning bolt of realization struck Michael B. Butler in the middle of the night: March 24, 1980 was the day, in the middle of Bonin’s ten-month murder spree, which changed everything to follow dramatically. He realized it all came down to that day—just a like white board in a detective movie with strings running through the middle, Butler knew that four key players coincidentally crossing paths altered the future forever. And so, he had to reach back into the book and make those final and most vital changes.