Desperation, Desolation

JT Ellison

UPDATE — December 18, 2006
They might have him!

This headline caught my eye for obvious reasons. Hunt For Serial Killer Widens in England. It’s been touched on here and here. The story is terrible, but one that’s become all too common in our society today. It’s interesting that they are billing this as a new Jack the Ripper — it seems every time prostitutes start dying, Jack is the gold standard for comparison.

12/13/06 by Rukmini Callimachi (AP)

Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull of Suffolk police advised Ipswich prostitutes not to go out to work.

have got three prostitutes murdered, now possibly another two. I do not
know what stronger warning there can be to get off the streets as soon
as possible," he said.

Detectives were already investigating the
deaths of three women, whose naked bodies were found a few miles apart.
One body was found in a stream, another in a pond and a third in the
woods, about 30 yards from a road.

The two bodies discovered
Tuesday were lying near Levington, Suffolk, a village about five miles
south of Ipswich. The corpses of the five dead women have all been
found within a few miles of Ipswich.

The killing has stirred
memories of the so-called Yorkshire Ripper, one of Britain’s worst
serial killers. Peter Sutcliffe admitted to killing 13 women, mostly
prostitutes, in the 1970s. He was sentenced to serve a minimum of 30
years in prison.

His reign of terror recalled Jack the Ripper,
the notorious Victorian serial killer who murdered at least five East
London prostitutes in 1888. He was never caught and speculation about
his identity continues.

The latest deaths have drawn intense
media interest, with Ipswich’s afternoon newspaper labeling the
prostitutes’ killer "the Suffolk Strangler."

Creative geniuses, these serial killers. Preying on prostitutes. Women who are desperate for money to buy drugs, maintain their pimps, or simply find themselves in a situation beyond their control.

And now a new report has surfaced. Scotland Yard is "talking" to the authorities in Atlantic City, New Jersey, about possible similarities in the cases. From a creative standpoint, the idea that a transatlantic serial killer is alternating murdering prostitutes in the States and the UK is where a thriller novel is born. (It’s mine, don’t you even think about it.)

But there is a dark, grim reality out there.

I spent an overnight on a ride along interviewing pros. We’d pull them over, take a Polaroid, take down a physical description, noting tattoos and scars, eye color, the unchangeable traits they possessed. We ran their sheets, most of which were fourteen to twenty pages long, with various and sundry charges, nearly all drug related. We took down their information, last known address, anything and everything. None of them really seemed to grasp why.

Why? Because when they were found in a ditch or a dumpster three weeks later, the police would have something to identify them with.

As the sun rose over Nashville and we called it a night, I was devastated. It’s depressing seeing these women, mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, pushed into this life. They aren’t pretty, they aren’t glamorous. They aren’t the version you see in movies with the short sequined skirts and lucite platform FMP’s. They are dressed in tattered jeans and over-sized t-shirts. They are missing most of their teeth. They have lank, greasy hair, haven’t showered for days, and generally are about as unappealing as you can imagine. They walk with a wide gait, arms swinging at their sides — the Crack Walk. It makes a woman wonder why, exactly, a man would pay money to have sex with them.

Yet pay they do. I saw several cross country truckers parked in the back of quiet buildings, men of all ages and colors wandering behind their "date" (you have to stay out of the prostitutes proximity so you aren’t labeled a John and picked up.) Drugs fuel this underworld, and it is depressing as hell to see first hand.

There’s a program here in Nashville called the Magdalene House. It’s a spectacular recovery and rescue run by Reverend Becca Stevens of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church. Becca is a pretty amazing woman.

my experience the line between priest and prostitute is very small. The
bonds which hold us together are much stronger than the lines which
keep us apart."

— The Reverend Becca Stevens

Magdalene House has grown, and now has a cottage industry called Thistle Farms, where the women who’ve graduated the program work. I’ve met some of the women, both while they’re in recovery and after. There is hope in their eyes, something I didn’t see on the streets of downtown Nashville.

I wish there were a way to talk these women off the streets. The cops in Ipswich, England "encourage" the prostitutes not to go to work. But they can’t stop. They are fueled by addiction, and are therefore something like a herd of deer, being thinned by predators. These women are easy prey, hunted by cowards. We’ll hear these stories again, and again, and again. There will always be desperation, and desolation in this world.

I chose to write serial killer novels for many reasons. I’ve discussed my motivations before. I want to give a voice to the victims. In my world, the one I make up and put on paper, I can address the issues. I can catch the bastards who prey on women, and see that there is justice. But every once in a while, I see a story in the news and realize I’m not enough. Programs like Magdalene aren’t enough. It’s sad to realize that no matter what I do, it’s not going to change a thing. Sick minds like the Ipswich Ripper, the Atlantic City killer, the myriad of others who are killing — nameless, faceless — will never stop.

P.S.   MJ Rose is sponsoring a great contest at Buzz, Balls and Hype.
Write YOUR letter to Santa and win $100 for your favorite charity.

If my letter is picked, the $100 will go to Magdalen House.

14 thoughts on “Desperation, Desolation

  1. Mike MacLean

    Great post JT.

    Our society has turned our backs on these women. Consider the word “pimp.” How did the name of such a vile predator become somehow synonymous with “cool”? It turns my stomach when I hear my students use the word with no true notion as to what they’re saying. And if I were to speak out against the use of the word, I would be labeled as someone who doesn’t understand.

    There was a recent story here in AZ where two men (I hesitate to call them men) imprisoned a young girl, raped her, and sold her to other men. For hours at a time, they locked her in a dog kennel. These men were pimps.

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    This is an issue that so enrages me I’m afraid to even start talking about it.

    I used to teach teen prostitutes in the court schools and every single one of them had been sexually abused at home or by people close to them. I swear, we need birth control in the water. No one gets the antidote without two years minimum in parenting school and a criminal background check.

    And you REALLY don’t want to get me started on the johns.

  3. JT Ellison

    Mike, you are so right. When did it become cool to own people again? The story you told is so heartwrenching… how can a human being treat another like that?

    Welcome, Billie. You’re website is totally cool. Becca is an amazing lady, her compassion is unequaled.

    Alex, I was reluctant to post this, as my Murderati mates know, because it does incite such emotions. But if we don’t talk about it, how can we ever change it?

  4. Tasha Alexander

    JT, wonderful, wonderful post. This is one of those issues that breaks my heart and makes me angry, angry, angry. So much of the misery in the world stems from poverty–people living in desperate circumstances–and here we are in the richest country in the world.

    OK, I’m not going to get on my soapbox.

  5. Louise Ure

    “These women are easy prey, hunted by cowards.”

    That pretty much says it all, JT. Poverty and ignorance is going to keep these woman as easy prey until we do something about it. As for the cowards …

  6. patry

    Very insightful post, JT. The women may be anonymous, but last week when I read about the lives of the women who were killed in Atlantic City, I realized that each one of them was a beautiful, promising individual whose life went tragically wrong at some point.

  7. JT Ellison

    Patry, you’ve nailed it. Show me a pro who woke up one morning and decided this was her life’s ambition and I’ll sell you a bridge.

    Tasha and Louise, poverty and drugs. You’d think we COULD fix it.

    I guess we should be heartened by the fact that the stories are even being covered. Nine times out of ten, the murder of a prostitue doesn’t make the paper, much less international news.

  8. pari noskin taichert

    Powerful post, J.T.

    As the mother of daughters, I tremble to think of how lives that start out with such promise can become so tragically derailed.

    So many dreams shattered.

    And with murder, hope is forever stolen from them all.

  9. billie

    Thanks, J.T.

    Your “On Writing” page is something I will go back to regularly when I need reminding.

    Re: the correlation between sexual abuse and prostitution – I am also a psychotherapist who works primarily with trauma victims. For most of my full-time career, I worked with sexual abuse victims. It was so terrifying to see young girls coming out of both poverty and abuse – and know that without help they would likely end up on the streets, in some form or other.

    The miracle is the ones who don’t. If one can help them find the core of strength they all seem to have, they bloom. It sounds like the Rev. Becca takes that to a beautifully far degree.


  10. Elaine Flinn

    Terrific, J.T.! Your compassion and eloquence is to be applauded.

    It’s articles like this that continually prompt me to wonder that if we can get to the moon – why the hell can’t we solve problems here on terra firma. But – in reality – there will always be a segment of the female population that gets short changed in life – and if they find no alternative but to hit the streets, then let’s at least legalize prostitution and provide them protection and aid.

    And Mike? I’m with you. I wince everytime I hear people use pimp for cool. I heard a writer not too long ago tell someone he was getting ready to get out ‘pimp’ his new book. I wanted to smack him. Oh, and ‘crib’ – that’s another one that gets me.

  11. pari noskin taichert

    Paul,You’re just too much of a slave to the holiday spirit. I know, you’ve already got the egg nog out, hung up the stockings, left those cookies for Santa . . .

    But so many of us just can’t get into it the way you do.


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