What kind of love proves itself by brutality against innocents, what warped ties of loyalty bind a lover to a mate who murders
Killer Couples. True Stories of Partners In Crime, Including Fred West & Rose West
A14-year-old girl is kept for days as a sex slave, filmed begging for her life and then strangled. Two 8-year-olds are snatched off the street and left to starve in an underground dungeon. A man's head is staved in with a hammer before he's stabbed 66 times, his blood collected in a bowl to be drunk. A vulnerable man is held prisoner in a garden shed, then tortured to death… Sadly, there is nothing unique about violent death. Since records began there have been no shortage of accounts bearing witness to man's tremendous capacity for inhumanity. But what makes the above crimes so shocking is that they are not the work of one depraved individual but a couple acting together. In a world where brutality has become so commonplace that we are almost immune to it, the juxtaposition of love and savagery, of romance and sadism, can still make us sit up and take notice.
We Westerners hold very little sacred, but one of our last, most fiercely protected ideals is that of the redemptive power of love. With the right person by our side, we insist, individuals who were once broken can be healed, lives that were going off track can be set straight again… The love that inspires sonnets, poetry and even Whitney Houston ballads is what we're all searching for because it represents the key to another kingdom, where past wrongs are put right and shattered hearts become whole. Love lifts us up where we belong, we're told. And where we belong is this better place – beyond loneliness, isolation and acts of desperation borne of bitterness and despair. Put simply, love – at least the kind of love we choose to believe in – is a power for good.
So pervasive is this view, so seductive the premise, that when something happens to cast doubt over it, we cannot, simply will not, believe it. Lovers should be heroes, not psychopaths; they should be kissing rather than killing. Their prize should be mutual salvation, not contamination.
The romantic comedies we flock to see, the love songs we sing along to, all share one clear message: love makes you a better person. Which is why crimes such as the ones described above send such shockwaves through us all. Here are couples lucky enough to find love, which is after all, our modern-day holy grail. But instead of redemption, they institute rape; instead of salvation, sadism; and instead of devotion, death.
Individually, they may have been broken from the start, but rather than fixing them, love shatters them still further into millions of irreparable pieces. This is not the noble, true love we know from a thousand big-screen love stories, but love that exalts in power, that feeds on misery, that wallows in violence. This is a love that's twisted and warped out of all recognition – and yet it is still love.
The couples featured in this book are not inspired to be better people because they found each other. Instead they're encouraged to be worse. Rather than boosting one another's strengths, they exploit each other's weaknesses. You would think you might be able to spot them, wouldn't you, these freaks of nature who turn romance into a blood sport? And that's another reason why they so disturb us: their very normality. They kidnap, they rape, they murder, torture and abuse… And in between they make each other cups of tea, run baths, buy birthday gifts, have sex and tour their local DIY store together on rainy bank holidays. Love may have created a monster, but it's a monster that wears a scarily ordinary face.
Pretty, petite blonde-haired Karla Homolka and her handsome young fiancé cooked her parents a Father's Day meal, while the dead body of the young girl they'd just assaulted lay festering among the bags of potatoes in their cellar. Rose West broke off from the most violent sexual abuse to make her husband and their victim a cup of tea. Kenny Kimes stopped off at a florist's on his way home from disposing of the body of the man he'd just murdered to buy the woman he loved a bunch of flowers…
It's not the differences between these couples and any other couple in love that makes them so terrifying; it's the similarities. You wouldn't spot them if you saw them walking towards you, hand in hand. If they moved in next door, you wouldn't know them. It's our ability to recognise love, but not evil.
Of course, not all killer couples are cut from the same cloth. There's not one neat template defining them all. Some couples in this book would probably not have killed if they hadn't met. Something in the way they reacted with each other, in the timing of their coming together, created the soil in which the germ of violence was allowed to grow. Would Ann Hunter and Anton Lee, two well-respected professionals, have solicited for murder if they hadn't happened to have met each other and had those first drunken conversations, which spiralled out of control? Would the two couples who imprisoned and tortured vulnerable young men have graduated from bullying to murder if fate hadn't thrown them into each other's paths?
In other cases, there's a high probability that one of the partnership, usually the woman, would probably have gone on to lead a largely uneventful life, if they had not been sucked into the malevolent orbit of a psychopathic partner. Michelle Martin, wife of Marc Dutroux, the Beast of Belgium, was remarkable only for her unremarkableness, for her lack of moral weight, her lack of substance… Would she have gone on to commit the atrocities of which she was found guilty had she never crossed paths with her perverted husband? Rebecca Harris had a mean temper and a sharp tongue, but would she have stabbed anyone, if not for the influence of murderous lover Stephen Marsh? Would Kenneth Kimes now be facing a future behind bars if he'd never come into the clutches of the materialist, domineering Sante?
Then there are the other couples, the ones whose proclivity towards what is most base and most vile, what degrades and what destroys is the very thing that first brings them together. What most attracts each to the other is the image of their own worst selves reflected back at them. Rose and Fred West each killed individually, but in each other they found a soul mate in savagery, someone whose sexual sadism and lust for power mirrored their own, and, by mirroring it, made it seem normal, acceptable, even desirable.
Whatever their particular make up, in the end couples that kill affront everything we hold most dear. We want to be able to pigeonhole our psychopaths in order to recognise them when we find them: loners in bed-sits who can't form normal relationships, misfits and freaks. We don't want them to be the couple next door, the newlyweds across the street. Most of all, we don't want them to be truly in love.
As a society, we pride ourselves on being realistic, cynical even. And yet the need to believe that love conquers all permeates every aspect of our lives. Love is good, we tell our children: love is the answer. The couples in this book have known great love, but in the end, it's that very love that corrupts and maims, that rapes and slaughters. In that, they become our worst nightmare.
THE FIRST CUT IS THE DEEPEST
STEPHEN MARSH AND REBECCA HARRIS
Red marks were appearing on her inner wrists where the cord tying her to the bedposts rubbed against her pale, exposed skin, but Rebecca Harris hardly noticed. Besides, with the blindfold obscuring her vision, she couldn't see anything anyway.
Lying in the darkness, Rebecca felt her whole body tense. The anticipation was unbearable.
'Here it comes. You know you like it.' The voice was hoarse, teasing.
Rebecca took a deep breath, her ribcage rising sharply under the tight, black corset. And then she felt it. Sharp and cold against her goose-pimpled flesh, the blade of the knife was stroking her thigh, gently at first and then with increasing pressure. Her breath escaped in a low moan of excitement mixed with something else: fear.
'You love that, don't you?' Now he was running the blade along her arm and she could feel a trickle of blood running down towards her elbow. Then another sensation: soft, moist. His tongue was languorously licking it up.
'We could be together all the time like this, if you'd just do as I ask,' his voice, with its gentle South Wales accent, was gentle, but insistent.
'I'd do anything for you, you know that,' her words came out in a high-pitched rush, and she hated the note of desperation in her voice. Of course, he picked up on that right away.
'So why won't you do this one thing?' he was wheedling now. 'We could be together forever. Wouldn't you like that?'
Of course she would. Ever since she'd started her affair with Stephen Marsh eight months before, Rebecca Harris had wanted nothing else but to spend every moment with him. She'd done whatever he'd asked her, even going along with the cutting, the bondage, the whips… enjoying it for his sake because this was what he wanted. But this was something else. And yet, if she didn't do it, he might leave her. He'd had other lovers before her, and she knew he'd have no problem finding someone else to replace her. He was so good-looking, so charismatic… She didn't know what she'd do without him.
As if he was reading her thoughts, he stepped up the pressure.
'I love you, you know that. I just want us to be together all the time, the way we're meant to be.'
He was saying all the right things, all the things she longed to hear.
'And we could be – if only you'd do this one thing for me. If only you'd kill my wife…'
Of course he was married. The good-looking ones always were, Rebecca thought, eyeing up Stephen Marsh at the Swansea Directory Enquiries call centre where the pair were working. Youthful-looking for his 36 years, with dark hair and blue eyes that, when he fixed them on you, made you feel as if you were the only person that mattered… All the women had a soft spot for Stephen. Anyway, rumour had it that he took his marriage vows with a large pinch of salt, enjoying a series of girlfriends on the side.
Well, good on him! That's what Rebecca thought. Married herself for nearly five years to a man forty years her senior, she had had plenty of time to dwell on the drawbacks of monogamy. Looking back on it, she couldn't imagine what had possessed her to agree to marry Ronald Harris, who'd been 65 when they walked down the aisle. With the bride just 25, he'd been old enough to be her grandfather.
Of course, the security had been a big factor, particularly once she'd got pregnant with their 5-year-old son – Ron had been a reasonably successful businessman and the couple led a comfortable life. But the age gap was always going to be a problem, and as the marriage went on, Rebecca found herself more and more resentful of her OAP husband and flying into increasingly violent rages. Their frequent rows were bitter and full of venom and vitriol; she was left shaking with anger. No, marriage was not an institution Rebecca Harris held in high regard.
'You're gorgeous, do you know that?' Stephen Marsh's twinkling blue eyes locked onto hers and, to her annoyance, she could feel herself blushing.
'Fancy coming for a drink with me after work?'
Rebecca could hardly bring herself to meet his gaze. She'd heard the expression 'undressing you with his eyes' before, but she'd never actually known what that meant. At least until now.
'I'm married,' she muttered, the fingers of her right hand furiously twisting the wedding ring she'd come to despise.
'That's all right,' he grinned. 'So am I!'
Over that night and the weeks and months that followed, Rebecca got to know all about Stephen Marsh. She knew he'd been married for 13 years to a Sikh woman called Jaspal that he'd met while working for the Ministry of Defence in London. Jaspal's strictly religious family had never approved of him, he'd told her. Neither had they liked the fact that the couple left the MoD to run pubs. That's why they'd ended up coming back to Swansea, Stephen's home town.
Of course, when he was telling this story to Rebecca, Stephen left out the part about Jaspal being fed up with him flirting with all the female customers and the girls working behind the bar. And how being around alcohol all the time caused his drinking, always prodigious, to get completely out of control. But then, as Rebecca would learn for herself, Stephen Marsh was very proficient at manipulating the truth when it suited him.
At first when they'd made love, Stephen had been a caring and affectionate lover. Invariably it had happened at the smart house he shared with Jaspal on an executive housing estate in Gorseinon, West Swansea, on the site of an old colliery. Understandably, Rebecca had been nervous at the beginning. Even though Jaspal had a demanding job at an insurance company in the city centre which kept her out of the house for long hours, the place still bore another woman's stamp. When the Marsh's old dog, Bwbach, gazed up at her, Rebecca couldn't help detecting a touch of reproach in her big brown eyes. No wonder she had found it hard to relax, jumping every time she heard a car door slam outside. But Stephen was so sexy and so full of confidence that nothing would go wrong that Rebecca soon lost her initial nerves and began to enjoy their sessions.
It felt so good to have a younger lover again, someone whose lithe, taut body and sexual stamina more than matched her own. She loved looking at him naked, devouring him with her eyes so that she could recreate every detail in her fantasies when she was once again back home with Ron.
But rapidly, Stephen's sexual demands began to change. He became rougher in bed, less focused on her and more on his own pleasure. He started calling her a whore and asking her to dress up in fetishistic clothing. Sometimes he'd even slap her about. But then in the next breath, he'd be so loving, so tender that Rebecca would feel as if her insides were melting. Anyway, by that stage, she was in love and determined to do everything she could to keep her man and make him happy.
So she bought a whole selection of black fetishist-style underwear, which she'd cram into a bag and bring into work on the days when she knew she was meeting up with Stephen. And she repeated back the words he wanted to hear. 'I'm a whore,' she'd groan, knowing how it turned him on.
At first, though, when he'd brought up the subject of using a knife during sex, she refused to listen.
'You want me to do what?' she'd shrieked, unable to believe what she'd just heard.
'I want you to cut me. Just a little bit,' he'd repeated. 'Then you lick up the blood. Don't worry, it's nice,' he'd assured her, seeing her disgusted expression. 'It's a real turn-on, you'll see.'
'No way!' had been her initial response. But, as with so many things, when he'd persevered enough, she'd eventually given in. There was just something about Stephen that made women want to do what he said, even when it went against everything they'd previously thought about themselves. He was that kind of guy.
To her surprise, Rebecca found herself not only using the knife on Stephen, but letting him do it to her as well. The first time she'd been terrified, and then angry. He'd promised only to cut her once, but then he'd launched into a kind of frenzy, slicing the blade across her skin, again and again.
Love and lust are among the most powerful of emotions, but when a joint thirst for violence is thrown into the mix, it creates the ultimate lethal cocktail. These case histories raise the questions of what kind of love proves itself by brutality against innocents, what warped ties of loyalty bind a lover to a mate who murders, and how the balance of power between a couple can become so twisted that other people become irrelevant and, worse, disposable. Seemingly normal people can all too frequently hide a macabre depravity for terror, torture, and death. If they hadn't met, these people might have continued through their lives in unremarkable obscurity. In all their horrific detail, discover how their flaws and fantasies fused to create a monster that fed on the sadistic extermination of their victims. The couples in this book could be your neighbors, even your friends. They are ordinary people with an extraordinary secret—murder.
Biography & Autobiography - True Crime
Perseus Books Group;John Blake Publishing;John Blake
EPUB, 393 KB
Love may have created a monster, but it's a monster that wears a scarily ordinary face.
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