Women live their lives in fear of men—every day, all day,
to our last day. When our mothers warn
us as children about the dangers of talking to strangers we implicitly
understand that she’s not talking about unfamiliar women and children, it’s men, men with
their superior physical power and unspeakable, unknowable desires against whom
we must guard. I don’t care how
physically large a woman is, or how many black belts she holds—when she is
alone in a garage or parking lot late at night and a strange man suddenly
approaches she will feel a frisson of fear.
I was trying to explain this innate feeling of vulnerability
to one of my male friends. “Imagine how
you would feel on your first day in a maximum security prison,” I instructed
him. “Imagine walking up the cellblock
with all of the other prisoners hooting and cat-calling—every last one
looking for an opportunity to sexually assault you and steal your
belongings. That is how women feel every single
Is this fear bred into women? Is it an atavistic impulse borne of a
thousand generations of women victimized by men? Or is it merely imprinted on us by childhood
warnings and reinforced by a lifetime’s barrage of media coverage of
male-on-female crime? Many serial killers profess to be surprised by
how little some of their female victims fight back—it’s almost, they claim,
as if the women are resigned to their fate.
Maybe these women are simply relieved that the worst has come to pass—the
terrible stress of waiting to be butchered by a man is finally over (comparable
to the relief felt by criminals upon being apprehended: “What took you so
long,” the Son of Sam famously said as the cuffs snapped shut).
I once thought I was about to be murdered. Stranded by my friends, I exited a bar at
last call and found myself unable to locate an empty taxi. It was a snowy evening and I was woefully underdressed,
and as I stood shivering by the curb a man that I’d been conversing with
earlier at the bar drove by and offered me a ride. Although I wasn’t drunk I’d imbibed a few
cocktails, and even if I hadn’t been slightly impaired I still would’ve been in
dire straits—in my thin coat and short skirt I was certain to freeze to death
like Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Match Girl long before I located an unoccupied
taxicab; throwing caution to the icy wind I thanked the man and climbed into his car.
Soon after I settled into the passenger seat I noticed that my new chauffer was
acting strangely—in the bar he’d been amiable and loquacious, but now in the
car he was sullen and morose. “So, do
you go to that bar often?” I asked, hoping to break the awkward silence.
“What bar?” he said, turning to face me. In a staggering moment of horror I realized
that although he was similarly dreadlocked and bespectacled, the driver was not
the man with whom I’d been earlier conversing—in my slightly woozy, solidly-frozen
state I had gotten into the car of an absolute stranger. At that very moment the car exited the onramp
and began hurtling down the highway; I couldn’t get out of the car. I was
probably going to die.
I’d read somewhere that the key to surviving an assault is
to keep talking (thereby reminding your attacker of your humanity), and thus I
immediately began to babble. I talked
about how great the bar was, and how angry I was with my friends for leaving
without me, and how worried my family would be that I was coming home so late. I then segued into minutely detailed
directions to my neighborhood on the off-chance that the glowering mute in the
driver’s seat had the vaguest intentions of depositing me at my doorstep.
Finally my presumed-attacker spoke. “I think I know that
neighborhood; there’s a little store on the corner, isn’t there?”
“There is!” I crowed, finally allowing myself a sliver of
hope; he was beginning to respond to me. I babbled some more, keeping my chatter light
and peppy. “I am a human being. I am a
human being. I am a human being,” I
intoned telepathically. “I am a human
being. I am a—“
And then it happened. We blew right past my exit on the highway, not
even slowing down. At that moment I
knew. I truly, truly knew—it was going
to happen; tonight I was going to die. My heart thudded in my chest. Despite my abject horror I felt oddly
calm. I remember thinking, “Wow, so this
is how I’m going to die,” my lifelong curiosity regarding my own mortality now
satisfied. As we motored down the
highway I sat silently next to my killer. There was no need for chatter now, no
point in trying to escape; the die had been cast. I would not live to see morning.
Then, unbelievably—no, miraculously—we got off at the
next exit and drove to my neighborhood via some byzantine back roads I didn’t
even know existed. When I realized where
we were I almost wept with relief. I
hopped out of the car in front of a house a few blocks away from my own and
sprinted to the safety of my home via a neighbor’s back yard. Somehow, some way, I had been spared.
I know, then, what I would feel in the moments before my
murder; but what do men feel in similar circumstances? Unlike women, men do not live in fear of
their physical safety. The worst
scenario a man accosted in a deserted parking garage can likely conjure is having
his car or wallet stolen—not being viciously tortured for hours and hours by
a virtual stranger for no apparent reason at all.
I often wonder about the last moments of burly, bearded
murder victim Al Kite. Fifty-three year old Oakey
“Al” Kite Jr. was a small-town North Carolina boy turned big-time corporate
accountant; his career had taken him throughout the continental US, finally
touching him down in Aurora, Colorado.
Although Al worked hard, homes in suburban Denver are notoriously pricey,
so in 2004 he advertised in The Rocky Mountain News for a roommate to assist
with the mortgage payments on his residence at 2002 South Helena Street.
The ad was answered by a prospective tenant named Robert
Cooper. A well-dressed man with a limp,
Cooper completed the rental application and expressed an interest in sharing
Al’s well-kept home. Without verifying the information on the application, Al
agreed to grant him tenancy; the information Cooper had given was later
found to be entirely false.
Although some claim that Al’s small-town upbringing had made
him trusting—“too trusting,” according to his sister—I believe the reason
that Al neglected to investigate Robert Cooper’s background was more firmly
rooted in masculinity than geographical indoctrination. Like most men, Al simply felt no fear—there
was no reason to investigate the information on the rental application because
the most dire consequence Al could envision was a sloppy roommate chronically tardy
with the rent. At approximately 5’8” and
180lbs, hobbled by a bad leg, Robert Cooper was not an imposing presence—Al
would likely have found the idea of physically fearing his crippled new tenant
Women, in my experience, do not share this sense of
invincibility; the worst thing that could result from allowing a strange man
access to our homes is our rape and murder, and thus we screen potential roommates
accordingly. In fact, a female landlord
who had previously shown Robert Cooper around her home had rebuffed his request
to move in—she couldn’t quite put her finger on it, she said, but she
implicitly knew that there was something wrong with him. Was it life experience or an inborn female survival
instinct that caused this woman’s hair to stand on end in Robert Cooper’s
On the day of Cooper’s scheduled move Al dropped his
girlfriend Linda Angelopulos at the airport to catch a flight east for a
weeklong vacation. Linda and Al had been
dating for only 56 days, and en route to the airport they agreed to make their budding
I am transfixed by
the image of Al driving home from the airport.
He must have believed himself to be a man for whom everything was
finally falling into place—he’d solidified his relationship with his beloved
Linda, he’d found a roommate to alleviate his financial pressures—and yet
every mile he drove brought him closer to his doom. His final afternoon on earth was spent fixing
a leaky pipe with a neighbor—how is it possible that we don’t sense the clock
ticking down our last few hours on earth?
Linda spoke to Al that evening, the last contact Al Kite would
have with anyone besides his killer. In
retrospect, she said, Al seemed subdued, far less talkative than his usual
verbose self. Was Robert Cooper there
during that final phone call, she later wondered? And if he was, was it possible that her boyfriend’s
strange demeanor was an indication that, even subconsciously, Al had finally
experienced his first inkling of Cooper’s true intentions?
When Cooper first surveyed Al’s townhouse he’d mentioned
ownership of a particularly large chair—Cooper claimed to be unsure whether
the bulky recliner
would fit down the staircase, and told Al that the chair would likely have
to be brought in via the basement door.
The police surmise that Al had been walking down the steps to assist
Cooper with this phantom chair when Cooper attacked mid-staircase, bludgeoning
Al from behind.
Further details of the attack can only be gleaned from the
evidence found at the crime scene, “the worst [he’d] ever seen,” according to
the veteran homicide detective who headed the investigation. Al had been restrained, the police knew, and
likely tortured for hours, beaten and stabbed innumerable times with an
assortment of knives from his own kitchen.
It is especially poignant to me that Al’s own cutlery was
the instrument of his demise. Had Al purchased
these knives himself, I wonder? I
picture him in Williams-Sonoma testing each knife’s sharpness, ensuring the
durability of each blade—essentially vetting his own murder weapons. Or were these knives that would ultimately pierce
Al’s flesh given to him by a friend or family member? I can’t imagine the revulsion of learning I’d
gifted a loved one with the implements of his lengthy, agonizing torture. How many times had Al used these very knives
to open mail, to cut vegetables, to pry open packaging—these most mundane of household
items transformed into objects of ghastly horror?
The police believe that Al was likely rendered at least semi-conscious from the
onslaught of blows on the staircase and thus incapacitated long enough for
Cooper to secure the ligatures around Al’s wrists and ankles. What thoughts teemed through Al’s mind as he
drifted back to consciousness, encrusted with gore, his battered head aching,
his hands and feet bound against escape?
Could he conceive of the torment the next few hours would bring? As women we are well-prepared for an
assailant’s atrocities—grotesque acts of violence against women are
ever-present in the media, and highly-detailed cautionary tales of butchered
women abound. I doubt the idea of being
trussed and tortured by a stranger has ever crossed most men’s minds—as the
events of that horrible evening unfolded Al was likely shocked anew by each
atrocity in Cooper’s murderous repertoire.
Robert Cooper, certainly an alias, has never been
apprehended. Upon investigating the
known facts the police surmised he’d been trawling for victims for weeks,
answering roommate classified ads in search of a perfect victim. Cooper’s
physical description varied at each encounter—his limp came and went, as did
a Romanian accent. The execution of Al’s murder was flawless: the ligatures were
taken to prevent the detection of DNA, and bleach was used to soak the murder
weapons and clean the drains after Cooper bathed. Both Al’s phone and Cooper’s disposable cell
phone were abandoned in an area infested with transients; Cooper knew that the
phone calls subsequently made by vagrants would provide a plethora of
false leads for detectives to follow.
After the crime a mask-clad Cooper drove Al’s pickup truck
to an ATM and withdrew a thousand dollars from Al’s account; however, police don’t
believe that money was the motive for Cooper’s crime, as a substantial amount
of money was left behind. In addition,
Linda assured the police that Al would’ve given his PIN number to Cooper
willingly, thus rendering the hours of torture gratuitous. “If somebody would’ve said, ‘Give me all
of your money,’ he’d ask why, but he’d give it to you,” she claimed. Some
theorize that Al’s murder was what is known as a “practice kill”—a murder
performed by a professional assassin to hone his murderous skills, but the
police discount this theory as well; the numerous knives used and hours spent
in the commission of the crime bespeak a darker, more twisted motive.
When I thought I was about to be murdered on some level my
slaughter made perfect sense to me—I’d been warned my entire life that getting
into a strange man’s car would have dire consequences; although I was horrified by my impending death
I was not altogether surprised by it.
Al, I’m sure, saw no such foreshadowing—a large man, and more
importantly a kind and law-abiding man, how could he conceive that someone
would want to annihilate him? I’m sure Al never dreamt that his search for a roommate
would lead inexorably to his death.
The moral of this story is that we should all,
men and women alike, take heed—-the most banal actions can have unforeseen consequences,
and Robert Cooper is still out there;
he may, in fact, be perusing the classified ads
in your city
as you read these words.