To grow up in Austin, Texas, in the late 1970s was to live a life of safety and innocence. Insulated amongst the endless suburbia ranch-style homes of the time, and only concerned with matters of childhood, the worst way that crime could affect you was to have an action figure stolen. Perhaps Chewbacca.
Well, that's not true. The worst would be bike theft. An unimaginable horror. But fear noteveryone had a bike lock. As they say: Trust in Allah, but lock up your Camel.
It was a time of no gangs, no war, no cable television. No Internet porn, no AIDS, no parachute pants. The tribulations of the Eighties had yet to occur, and only the vague talk about Iran and hostages could penetrate our Star Wars-obsessed melons.
For those in my generation, born in the early 1970s, the Eighties got off to a very poor start. John Lennon and President Reagan were shot, and in very visible ways. Suddenly it became clear that some people were plum crazy. It didn't change our behaviors, however. Halloween was still an all-night episode of Mayhem. No parental guidance, no limit to the amount of eggs that could disappear strangely from the fridge.
But then it started. News out of Atlanta, Georgia. A certain demographic appeared to be the favored taste of a killer. First they went missing, then perhaps the bodies would be found. And that demographic: children. Now this was not welcome news at allthis would not do. After all, I'm a kid. There could be a connection here! But I slept fine.
Georgia was a thousand miles away.
It was right before dinner one night when Mom pulled out a Rand McNally road map. She had me sit on her knee, and began talking to me in a strangely sweet voiceas if calming me down was a priority. I immediately became suspicious. This could concern my bike, or action figure acquisitions.
"Carlton!" She said. "Here we are right now." She pointed to Austin. "How would you..." she began talking very slowly, "...like to live... here?" Her finger moved east, to the right, along the southern delta inexorably to, Atlanta, Georgia. My jaw dropped. The room was silent. My dad just stared at me. "Umm-uh... isn't that where all those kids are getting killed?"
My Mom looked at me as though I had just asked about the Pygmies of Peru and their dietary habits. And then, with a laugh: "Oh sweetheart, I wouldn't worry about that! We won't let anything happen to you. There are so many children thereyou don't have anything to worry about." I couldn't believe my ears! Here we have just been bombarded with terrible details about missing boys and girls, strangulations, floating and bloated bodies in rivers, decomposed children found in fieldsand I was to just blow it off! Hey, what are the odds?!! Relax! You'll just be a nameless face in the crowdthe killer has so many targetsyou'll get lost in the masses, sonny!
Needless to say, this philosophy of geometric probabilities did not soothe me. When it became clear that I really didn't have a say in the matter, I began worrying more deliberately. I watched the news. A nine-year-old, preparing for his death, amassing all the information needed to defend himself from the Atlanta Child Killer. What was his weakness? Did he have a weakness? Could my growing interest in the martial arts somehow equip me with the skills to neutralize this threat? Would I have to deal with this for the good of everyone?
Well, fine then. Bring it on, ACK! Carlton is coming to Georgia and he won't be strangled quietly! He will bite! He will kick! He will not sink willingly to the bottom of the river! He will float in plain view, ruining your plans of concealment. Hah!
But that's not true. I really wasn't that scared of ACK. I was afraid of my skin color. You see, to a child watching the news out of Atlanta, one would think that Atlanta was populated only by black children. And that scared me since I would suddenly be all alone with my whiteness.
And then we finally moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and I found out for the first time that expectations are just that. They aren't reality. Mom was rightthere were way too many kids. What were the odds that I would be picked by ACK?! Jeez. What a Dilbert I was back in Austin.
Besides, they caught the guy soon after and I was left with the real challenge: there were plenty of white people in Atlanta.
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