I’ve been thinking a lot about Florida lately.
The weather in New York has been hideous, and one of my friends is convinced we should relocate to Key West. Bungalows in Old Town are cheap, she claims, and the area is full of artists and fabulous gay men.
Like NYC and upstate New York, the Keys and Florida share nothing but a geographical proximity,
she assures me;
Florida Man and his meth-infused monkeyshines are a northern Florida phenomenon—-the Keys are Provincetown,
Yet truth be told, loathsome as this winter’s weather has been, I’m afraid to move south.
I’m not sure if it’s the humidity or a type of collective psychic peer pressure,
but Florida makes certain people crazy.
Not everyone, obviously—some folks are happy to sit quietly in the sun
swatting palmetto bugs and waiting for death, but for some people the Sunshine State triggers dark impulses.
Take, if you will, my fellow Brooklynite Albert Brust,
who migrated to Dade County in 1972.
Although Brust, age forty-four, was no choir boy—he’d served a six-year prison sentence in the 1950s for robbery, assault and grand larceny—his crimes were banal, and he’d been out of prison, working as a construction worker,
for nearly a dozen years.
Moving south changed all that;
Albert Brust dwelt in suburban Miami for barely a year, but his infamy would linger in Florida’s true crime annals for eternity.
Saturday, July 21st, 1973. The rain-spattered housewife dashed into her home and telephoned the Metro Dade Police:
“I think there’s a dead man in the garden next door.”
Hearing the pitter-patter of raindrops,
Mrs. Shelia Holt had rushed into her back yard moments earlier to retrieve her wash from the clothesline.
While yanking out clothespins she’d noticed neighbor Albert Brust sitting on a chaise lounge in his yard,
seemingly oblivious to the encroaching storm.
Brust’s failure to get out of the rain perplexed Mrs. Holt,
and when her son mentioned Brust had been sitting in the same spot for twenty-four hours
she knew something was amiss.
Mrs. Holt, as it turns out, was correct—something was drastically wrong at the house next door,
and the homeowner’s corpse propped in the yard was barely the tip of the iceberg.
Ten days earlier Brust had written these words in his diary:
No sex yet, but I’m working on it—slowly,
but with determined resolve.
I know what I want. I need someone for sex,
yes, but not an idiot I have to cater to.
Enter the Brustian solution….
Although late-life virginity has only recently gained a high profile due to the wonders of Wizardchan, forced-celibacy practitioners have always been with us;
and Albert Brust, described by writer Colin Wilson as
“an ugly, short little man with few friends,”
was a card-carrying member of the tribe.
Although his can-do sentiment regarding his belated deflowering
(Brust as The Little Virgin who Could),
the writings’ optimistic tone belied a much darker intent;
Brust, according to his journal,
did not intend to sample the sins of the flesh via bawdy house or romantic conquest. The so-called “Brustian solution” involved torture, rape,
and enough S&M implements to make the Marquis de Sade blanch.
After more than forty years of New York celibacy
the move to Florida had knocked the pin out of the grenade that was Albert Brust’s libido,
and an explosion was nigh.
On Saturday July 14th Brust saw a perfect opportunity to put the Brustian solution in motion—he spotted young hippie couple Mark Matson, age sixteen, and Paula Gail Lee, age fifteen, hitchhiking in Fort Lauderdale.
Mark had run away from his home in Ohio four days earlier,
and Paula had fled her Kentucky hometown on June 30th—they’d met on the beach only two days before,
but were instantly smitten and quickly became inseparable.
Brust introduced himself as “Eric,”
and once the couple entered his white panel van
the aging virgin acted a role he’d been born to play:
lonely loser desperate for companionship.
Once he’d established himself as a nonthreatening entity,
Brust baited the hook—he told the couple he was seeking live-in housekeepers,
and said they’d be perfect for the job.
Lulled into a false sense of security by Brust’s gnomish stature
and unthreatening mien, the teens accepted his offer.
As he shuttled his prey back to his two-bedroom home
at 17030 SW 120th Court Brust’s accursed moments of virginity were dwindling.
The 1970’s may have been a different time,
but then as now,
getting into a stranger’s panel van
rarely heralds the beginning of a safe and uneventful evening.
Brust’s blue and white stone-front house may have seemed
the very picture of suburban domesticity,
but appearances can be deceiving—the home’s exterior was conventional, but the décor was a Spanish Inquisition fever dream reimagined by Hustler magazine.
The entire residence had been soundproofed—the concrete in some places an astounding sixteen-inches thick—and
the walls of the bathroom were shellacked floor-to-ceiling with collages of hardcore pornography,
including two life-sized male nudes.
Behind a steel door in the spare bedroom lurked the home’s pièce de résistance—a four-by-eight foot torture chamber insulated with cinderblocks and six inches of foam.
Lit by a black light and adorned with a variety of whips and chains, the interior of the chamber was scrawled with obscene words and slogans written in luminescent paint.
In the chamber’s center sat its sole item of furniture,
a “Chinese raping stool” designed
for abnormal sexual congress—a pick-your-own-perversion chair,
in layman’s terms.
As soon as the young couple entered his home
Brust dropped all pretense of looking for a helping hand
with household chores;
brandishing a gun,
he hustled Mark and Paula into his miniature dungeon
and demanded they perform sex acts while he photographed their encounter.
At some point during the proceedings
Brust laid down the gun
while attempting to find a perfect angle from which to document the action, and Mark saw his chance—the teen pounced on the much smaller Brust, and the two struggled for the weapon.
Mark may have been six inches taller and two decades younger,
but Brust was faster; gunshots rang out and Mark crumpled to the floor, shot three times in the head, shoulder and chest.
Only four days earlier Mark had left his middle-class Midwestern home on a vision quest, but instead of adventure the vagaries of fate had delivered death in an S&M cubbyhole at the hands of a middle-aged virgin. As heartbreaking as his demise was, for Mark, at least, the ordeal was over;
but for Paula the tribulations were just beginning—for the next thirty-six hours she was shackled in Brust’s chamber of horrors while he alternately raped her,
whipped her with a cat o’ nine tails, and forced her to watch while he hacked Mark’s body into pieces.
Albert Brust was a construction worker and building inspector by trade,
and I can only imagine his occupational preoccupations influenced his corpse disposal methodology.
Instead of dumping Mark’s body in the ocean or serving him up as a gator
hors d’oeuvre in the nearby Everglades,
Brust whipped up some cement and encased Mark’s body parts in his shower stall. Always the type who needed to have the last word,
Brust jammed Mark’s decapitated head obscenely between his legs as a final farewell.
At approximately 2pm Monday the Brustian solution had run its course.
“A life for a life—I’ve taken a life, but now I’m going to give you your life,” Brust announced to his traumatized captive.
He then drove Paula back to Fort Lauderdale, forcing her to ride on the floor of the van in hopes she’d be unable to lead the police to his residence. Pledging to kill both her and her family if she contacted law enforcement,
Brust—no longer the Little Virgin Who Could, but the Evil Rapist and Killer Who Did—set Paula free on the beach where the weekend’s hellish course of events had begun three days earlier.
Despite the brevity of their romance Mark had died attempting to save Paula, and the heroine of our story was determined to repay his sacrifice. Brust’s threats notwithstanding,
the feisty runaway went directly to the Fort Lauderdale Police Department and spilled forth the entire sordid saga—torture chamber, Chinese raping stool, and dismembered body parts included.
Even in Florida, body parts encased in a shower stall and a sodomy-enabled Barcalounger were beyond the pale;
at some point during Paula’s statement a detective contacted her family to inform them of her whereabouts,
and the phone call dealt a fatal blow to the teen’s credibility.
Describing her daughter as “a pathological liar who is continually making up bizarre stories,”
Mrs. Lee cautioned the investigator against believing a single word Paula said.
Due to the narrative’s surreal details,
and taking Mrs. Lee’s assessment of Paula’s truthfulness as fact,
the detectives decided that Paula was fantasizing.
Fort Lauderdale PD subsequently shelved the police report and declined to investigate.
Paula’s family may have been emotionally unsupportive, but at least they were generous—they wired their prodigal daughter money for plane fare and she returned,
bruised, battered and terrorized,
to her home in Frankfort, Kentucky. Against all odds,
killer and rapist Albert Brust was free and clear, his Brustian solution a rousing success
from a penal point of view if not a moral one.
Back in Miami, however, Brust had no idea he’d literally gotten away with murder.
Correctly surmising Paula had contacted the authorities,
he agonized over his impending capture:
“My own capacity for empathy has proved my undoing,” he lamented in his journal.
Imprisonment for Mark’s murder wasn’t Brust’s only concern;
his diary, entitled “The Ultimate Solution” (à la the Nazi’s Final Solution), was a fount of Brust’s woes and worries, principal among them his fear of losing his mental prowess:
I fear insanity,
I fear prison. I fear the loss of my intellectual and
sexual powers, and I fear death. But of them all, I
fear death the least. I don’t want to be an old fool, a
doddering wreck of feeble powers, a remnant of the
Brust that rebelled and won a round against this
stupid society. You might say that I wanted to die
with my intellectual boots on.
Brust fancied himself something of a savant; in addition to the torture trappings his home brimmed with works of literature and philosophy, including the oeuvre complète of the Marquis de Sade.
Although he’d never attended college
Brust taught himself calculus during his youthful prison stint
and he’d taken correspondence courses at the University of Chicago,
alma mater of Lipstick Killer William Heirens and thrill killer Dickie Loeb.
According to a co-worker,
“[Brust] thought everyone was stupid except for himself;”
and like many underachievers who believe themselves superior to the hoi polloi,
Brust was an avid fan of the Third Reich—his journal featured a list of Nazis who committed suicide via cyanide,
and his writings bristled with a hatred of minorities, Catholics and Jews.
Considering Brust’s inflated opinion of his own intelligence
it must have been a crushing blow when he realized he’d made a grave mistake—the concrete around Mark Matson’s body had failed to set, and Brust’s home began to reek of rotting flesh.
Sitting in his fetid charnel house,
convinced the police were on his trail,
five days after the culmination of his eponymous solution Brust confided his despair to his journal:
“I see no good reason for going on,” he wrote.
“What would come next? The whole business was not worth it; life is not worth the trouble after all.”
Brust then scribbled the final words in his diary,
a litany of his physical ailments including bursitis, foot pain, and incipient diabetes—his handwriting trailing off, the last few lines much larger than the carefully penned script of earlier pages.
A Nazi fanboy to the end,
Brust chose the Third Reich’s favorite poison as his suicide quaff:
mixing a lethal dose of cyanide into a glass of chocolate milk, Brust retreated to the chaise in his neatly-landscaped backyard where he would be spotted by his neighbor twenty-four hours later.
He’d cast off his hated virginity barely a week ago, and the act that he thought would complete him brought him nothing but misery and death.
When responding officers entered Brust’s home after the discovery of his body
a foul odor drew them to the bathroom,
and the obscene wall collages weren’t the only surprise that awaited—like a concrete
the shower stall was sweating blood.
When further investigation revealed the psychedelic torture chamber
investigators were flabbergasted.
“I never saw anything like this before,” Detective Ray Eggler told a journalist from The St. Petersburg Times. “I never even read about anything like this before.”
Word of the bizarre discoveries in South Dade spread amongst law enforcement, and the news eventually reached Fort Lauderdale,
where Paula’s police report lay cast aside
in a drawer.
Eventually the connection was made—Paula, at last, was vindicated. Yet although Paula’s reputation for veracity was restored, an interview her father gave to The St. Petersburg Times shortly after the discovery of Brust’s body
makes me fear her home life in Kentucky was not the fairytale happy ending the protagonist of our story deserved.
“I think she’s realized her mistake now,”
her father told the reporter,
sympathy for Paula’s plight
taking a backseat to victim-blaming.
“She’s a pretty girl,”
Mr. Lee continued,
“I don’t know why
she keeps getting herself into these things.”
With hindsight, of course,
Mark and Paula’s decision to accept a ride from Brust
but neither deserved the indignities they suffered;
instead of chastising his daughter
Mr. Lee should’ve been praising her bravery.
More than half of all rapes remain unreported;
if Paula had skedaddled out of Florida
instead of contacting the police Mark’s body may never have been identified—she saved the Matson family a lifetime of anguish and uncertainty.
Although I’m no child-rearing expert, perhaps a little more compassion and a little less blame-casting would have behooved that father-daughter bond.
The Metro Dade Police chipped Mark’s body out of his concrete tomb and returned his remains to his family in Washington Courthouse, Ohio;
investigators then began scouring Brust’s property for additional victims.
Ever the preening gasbag,
Brust had hinted at previous murders to acquaintances and co-workers,
but no evidence of further crimes could be found. A careful reading of Brust’s diaries eventually convinced detectives the Brustian solution was a one-shot deal.
“The Ultimate Solution” recorded Brust’s thoughts and deeds for posterity,
but a central question was left unanswered—what was it about the move to Florida that flipped the switch of Brust’s violent impulses?
“Rape, murder and suicide,
these thoughts are always with me,”
Brust wrote in an early diary entry.
Clearly his grossly disordered cognition had been present for years—any convicted felon and life-long virgin who believed he’d “won a round against society” was non compos mentis,
at barest minimum.
Although the reason Brust failed to act on his dark fantasies in New York may forever remain a mystery,
I do have a theory about why the move south unhinged him:
there’s something about Florida, I believe, that fans the flames of pre-existing insanity.
I have no statistical analysis to back up this assertion,
but anecdotal evidence abounds:
it was only when Beauty Queen Killer Christopher Wilder moved to Miami that he made the jump from rape to murder, and Ted Bundy’s perfectly organized killing spree devolved into chaos while on the run in Tallahassee.
Maybe, maybe not;
but I’m not taking any chances—my friend can find someone else to play pre-menopausal Golden Girls in Key West.
I’m not aware of a personal propensity for lunacy,
but by the time psychosis bubbles to the surface
it’s too late—one minute you’re ordering crab cakes off the early bird menu and the next you’re on Key West Craigslist searching for a gently used Chinese raping stool.
If Albert Brust had stayed in Brooklyn Mark Matson might still be alive;
for the good of humanity, I’m staying put in NYC.
Don’t disbelieve your child if she tells you she was raped by a maniac.
Don’t commit suicide to avoid capture until you know you’ve actually been caught.
And god forbid if you must hitchhike, don’t get into a windowless panel van.
And most importantly,
whatever you do, don’t move to Florida—a little snow won’t kill you, but the Sunshine State just might.