I know four murderers. Here are three of them.

December 16, 2008

I know four murderers. Here are three of them.

The first to be convicted was John Stumpf. He was a friend of my uncle John when I was growing up. Even as a young kid, I could see the volatility and instability that lie below the surface, and while I never witnessed him actually beating someone, at the age of 8 I heard him pummel a guy with the butt of a shotgun. The thumping gaining a distinct liquid squish with each successive blow.

HE was convicted in 1985 for the killing of a 51 year-old woman. According to the testimony, he shot her through her hands as she held them up in front of her face, begging for her life. He was wacking her because he thought he had killed her husband with two shots to the head and she was a witness. But her husband survived to testify against John who now awaits his destiny on Ohio’s Death Row.

Brian Buckingham was a guitarist in a short-lived band that I was in during high school . The last time I had seen him, the band had not practiced for a few months and he had my vintage Cry Baby Wah-Wah pedal and I told him that I wanted it back. Well, he ducked me until he graduated later that year and then disappeared. Several years later, I was publishing a zine that was regularly reviewed in Factsheet5 which was the bible for zines. This was when the World Wide Web was in it’s infancy and so a lot of people still read physical publications. One winter day in 1996, I got a letter from Brain from a prison in, if memory serves me correctly, Arizona. He goes on in the letter to tell me that we played in a band together and that he is sure it is me because he read the review and the zine sounds crazy. The one thing I clearly remember was the sentence that started of the letter and it made me feel kind of nauseated:

“Life’s a bitch and then you kill somebody.”

Back in the Spring of 1987, we were at a party in Oakland together. In my teens, I never partook in the grass or the glass and so I was completely awake as about 6 of my high school friends lay passed out around me. Brian was on the couch opposite me and he had drank the most of anyone that night. I remember his eyes having that glossy distant stare, at times slightly rolling to the back of his head. He looked exactly like George Harrison circa 1967 with his mop shag haircut; mustachio, sideburns and all, passed out flat on his back. He started to gurgle and gasp for air. I looked on not quite sure what to do as he started to convulse. He then began to spit froth from his mouth.

I immediately got it – he was drowning on vomit. I rushed over and turned him on his side as about a gallon of stomach chum projected from his mouth. Bits of O fries and partially digested battered vegetables mixed with malt liquor, stomach acid and vodka. At this point he gained consciousness as did everyone passed out on futons, chairs and the floor. He was white as a ghost. I remember thinking to myself, “This fucking guy looks exactly like George Harrison and he almost died like Jimmy Hendrix.”

I often think about the different outcome that might have been had I been off walking around Oakland which I had contemplated moments earlier. I definitely saved him so that he could go on, years later, to kill someone. I never felt responsible, but from time to time I do think, what if.

THE last guy was not a friend, but an odd acquaintance. His name is Curtis Johnson. I can’t remember what year he committed his murder – I think it was around 1992 but I had not talked to him since 1989 when I switched schools my senior year. The movie Colors had come out and Gangster rap was in it’s infancy. A lot of the shit that kids listen to today about smokin’ people and selling drugs was shocking to the squares and parents of the late 80’s. I know when I first heard Straight out of Compton I was awe struck with the power and grit that I was hearing. Especially when taken in context. Western Pennsylvania was a complete backwater then. Kids today have it all at there finger tips and so it shocks me when they settle for Fall Out Boy and T-Pain.

ANYWAY, I remember Curtis transferring to the high-school that I would leave. A straight up black nerd with impeccable diction and better grammar than me. He felt everyone out. We had a mutual interest in Rap and Hip Hop and so he was an acquaintance that I didn’t really hang out with but shared shallow pleasantries. That was until we became ‘friends’. I would get called to the guidance office nearly every other day. If there was a vicious rumor circulating about someone, I was accused of doing it; if a restroom was flooded, I got questioned for it. If someone’s tire was flattened, I got shook down for a blade. Most of the faculty hated me. As I heard my name announced along with a list of other names of people that I would now consider Saturday Detention/In school suspension friends, I wondered what I was now being accused of now.

UPON reporting to the guidance office, I was given a hall pass and told to go to a room next to the lunch room. Was this going to be a line up? I took the long way from the guidance office to the cafeteria. Opening the door, it looked like a typical Saturday Detention. There was the chick who was obviously a lesbian, the chick who alluded to being a lesbian, a girl that was bulimic, a couple of dudes that I had thrown textbooks out of windows with in middle school as well as a few more girls and boys that seemed weird at the time. In retrospect I suspect that they had some sort of issues. And then there was Curtis.

The group leader was the one guidance counselor that I actually liked and was honest with. He was the one guy who always believed me when I was telling the truth. I rarely got sent to him to have a punishment mitered out. He went into this shit about this cool new group that we had been picked to join. A few of the chicks with body issues seemed really happy. I wasn’t. I asked if it was mandatory and told that it was highly recommended. We were told that anything discussed was to remain in that room along with a nice dose of threats and guilt if we talked. They asked this one chick with really deep acne scars to open up about how she was feeling. This particular girl was a real mess. She looked like her face had been set aflame and put out with a rake. In 8th grade, she had let me stick my hand down her pants in art class – under her panties. Her relief at talking was sort of sad. I knew I would never say anything about what she might discuss. Some of the others – I wasn’t so sure. When it got to be time for Curtis to speak, he talked about coming from Compton, and about drive-bys and crack cocaine. The others sat in silence, hanging on his every word. He said that he was in hiding from the Crips. They wanted to kill him for trying to leave the gang. This fucking guy was pretty much reciting a story based on the shit he heard on an NWA record. I mean, this guy was Urkle with clothes that fit only slightly better. I never went back to the ‘meetings’ ever again and I was never called to task for it. I wasn’t a troubled kid but I was instead a kid that liked trouble.

A few years went by and my cousin told me how his friend had just been arrested for murdering old people with this guy Curtis. They made off with $50.00. As he described this “gangbanger” that his friend got mixed up with. I determined he was the same Curtis. Seemed this clown should have graduated in 1990 and here it was, like 1993 and this guy was still in high school. Apparently my cousin’s friend believed all of the tales of gangster glory in Compton and this kid thought that he was going to be made an honorary Crip.

And then there is Mike…

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One Response to “I know four murderers. Here are three of them.”

  1. Laura Says:

    Mike who? I was rivited by the story and now I am curious. Who’s Mike?


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