Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Autumn/Winter 2003-2004

Here's a spooker from the editor of Peregrine Nations.


Stirring the Darkness: A Crime Revealed?

J.G. Stinson

 

Students attending Friendly High School in Friendly, Maryland were often kidded by other area high schools' students about their school's name. Friendly HS opened in 1970, and I was a member of the fourth class that graduated from the school. Among the other students in my class was Garrett Wilson, with whom I was a member of the school's Concert Choir for my junior and senior years.

 

Thirty years on, I don't remember whether we shared other classes besides Choir. The people I usually hung out with were the "heads," the hippie-come-latelys of the early 1970s, and Garrett was very middle-of-the-road, a guy who often wore leisure suits and ties to school as well as for his class yearbook photo. He had a nice baritone voice, one that melded well with the others in his section and the choir as a whole. Our group attended the annual statewide Concert Choir competition both years I was a member; one year, we placed either second or first - my memory is faulty in that regard.

 

Garrett was a likable person, from what I knew of him. Perhaps we ran into each other at someone else's party once or twice, but I don't remember doing so. He liked to make people laugh, but he was serious about music and was also willing to help others out if they had trouble learning to sight-read music. But of the three vocal-music groups available to those who passed auditions for them, he belonged only to the Concert Choir. Though he could play piano quite well, he wasn't a member of the school's Stage Band. According to the FHS Class of 1974 yearbook, the only other extracurricular activity in which he participated was the wrestling team, which that year had a miserable 4-9 record -- but that wasn't his fault.

 

When Garrett asked me out on a date, I was surprised. We didn't have the same friends, and the only thing we had in common was choir -- we didn't listen to the same popular music, I was certain of that, and he was a church-going type during the time I was reluctantly attending Catholic masses every Sunday with my mother, brother and sister.

 

(My father was and is Episcopalian - what one comedian [was it Robin Williams?] called "Catholic lite" - and sometimes attended with us. This was during the era when so-called mixed marriages between Catholics and those of other faiths required that any children born to the couple be baptized and raised as Catholics. I've been in the lapsed category for many years.)

 

I admit I was also a little flattered. Garrett wasn't my type, but I hadn't been besieged by guys for dates either. However, I didn't even consider saying yes to his request, mostly because I knew him as a fellow musician and acquaintance, and not someone I really wanted to get to know better. He was a big guy, just under six feet tall and robustly built; he reminded me of Keith Michell's portrayal of Henry VIII in the BBC series, and I didn't consider him to be fat. I was more interested in the tall, long-haired and slender type, and had already been swept off my feet by one such swain. I was happily involved in my first "serious relationship" with that young man (may he rot in hell - oops, that's another story), which had started during the summer between my junior and senior years.

 

So I smiled and thanked Garrett for asking me, "but," I added,"I'm going out with someone else."

 

Sophisticated words from a teenager who'd barely begun to discover what men and women got up to when the lights were out, but I'd always been an eclectic reader, and this was one area I'd been studying hard in recent months (not that it did me much good in the end with He Who Should Rot In Hell -- who belongs in another story).

 

Garrett took it well, smiled and said something polite, and that was that. I heard later that he took to the senior prom a young woman generally considered to be the nicest and prettiest in the senior class, but I think that latter opinion was one shared by the guys because of her bust size and not her personality. I remember her as very sweet-natured and innocent, with a more than capable brain, and can't recall her ever saying a bad word about anyone.

 

In my yearbook, Garrett wrote: "Janinininy He! He! Gee Janine it's been great knowing you. Everyday [sic] I saw you was a happy one. All my sad days really perked up when you passed me in the hall. Good Luck Love, Garrett." He wasn't the only guy who signed himself with "Love" in my yearbook, but he was the only one who was actually serious about what he wrote.

 

After graduation, my circle of friends gradually drifted off to college or road trips or full-time jobs, and I moved out of the area in 1977, back to Michigan. I never heard from Garrett again. I didn't hear of him until either 1999 or 2000. That was when my best friend from junior-high school, who'd moved in our 10th grade year with her military family to another state, wrote to ask me if I'd heard about what had happened to Garrett Wilson, and to ask if I had known him in school.

 


 

My friend referred me to a Readers Digest article (August of that year) concerning the arrest, trial and conviction of one Garrett Wilson. The issue was still on the magazine rack at the local grocery store, so I picked up a copy and checked the article's photos. I was stunned to see Garrett's face there, plainly recognizable after 25 years, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and looking tan and well-off. I bought the magazine and read it as soon as I got home.

 

I couldn't believe what he'd been accused of doing -- my initial reaction was that Garrett was the last person I'd suspect of a crime, much less the one for which he'd been arrested. But then I remembered all the years I'd spent researching serial murder and those who commit it, and I re-read that article. Slowly it became less shocking to me to think that Garrett Wilson could have done something so awful.

 

If asked why I got interested in reading about serial murder, I'd probably reply that it seemed good fodder for fiction writing, and I was interested in the kind of mind that could commit such murders. Thousands of people kill to defend themselves, or while in altered mental states (due to a variety of reasons, from organic to extra-chemical means), but to deliberately plan and carry out two or more murders (in series or in a spree) takes a brain that isn't wired right, a person who didn't learn or wasn't taught that taking life was heinous and illegal, not to mention immoral in most cases. I wanted to know where the wires got crossed, and why, and whether the mind behind serial murder was created before or after birth, or both. I still don't know the answer to that question.

 

The best book I've read on serial murder is Robert K. Ressler's Whoever Fights Monsters, not only for its Nietzche-related title, but for the meticulous details he includes and the history of the FBI's Behavioral Profiling Unit. Ressler's first book on serial murder and profiling came out years before John Douglas decided to get on the bandwagon himself with his more flamboyant style of prose. The two apparently have separate readerships, with each group calling the other's "hero" self-aggrandizing and a glory hog. That's their problem. I've read both and prefer Ressler. He was the one who taught me what the FBI uses in its profiling toolkit, and that toolkit allowed me to sort the knowledgeable from the twits when reading novels by writers who used serial murders as the main features of their books. The information Ressler provided was eye-opening and intensely fascinating to me.

 

My interest in this area was concurrent with my pursuit of information about multiple personality disorder, now called dissociative disorder (DD). I stumbled across this topic by accident in a library on Fort Riley, Kansas, during the last few years of my second Army enlistment. The book that hooked me was When Rabbit Howls by the Troops for Truddi Chase. I'd seen the TV movie of Sybil starring Sally Field and this book reminded me of it, so I checked it out. It proved to be the most harrowing read I've ever had. In the medical and legal communities, from what I've read, there's still some disagreement as to whether DD actually exists and whether it fits the insanity defense for those who commit crimes and claim to have DD. All I can say is that some years after reading the Chase book, I happened to catch an episode of Larry King Live during which he had her on his show, live and in person, and she appeared to me to be one of the most haunted-looking people I'd ever seen. But she has actively resisted the integration of her alters (her other personalities), due to her belief that her core personality no longer exists, and as far as I know she's still a multiple. The TV movie made of her life which starred Shelley Long (from Cheers) was fated to be incomplete because it could never include all of the horrific things Chase said she endured as a child. No one but a true multiple can change alters, as Chase demonstrated so chillingly during her interview with Larry King.

 

So, the two subjects made up most of my reading material in the late 1980s to the mid 1990s (apart from SF). I had a few ideas for incorporating the two areas into a novel which never reached fruition, but it may yet do so, who knows? I'm still interested in both areas, and my permanent library contains books from both areas which I intend to keep for the rest of my life, because they're excellent reference books.

 

After reading the Readers Digest article about Garrett Wilson's arrest, I located online and bought a copy of a book written about the case, While Innocents Slept, by Adrian Havill. The book reads well, but the details concerning Garrett's high-school days are sketchy at best. The only person Havill seems to have found to interview about those years is Garrett's longtime friend John Farley. No one from the Concert Choir was interviewed, and the only mention of the group infers that it was Garrett who won "All-County" honors alone. I don't recall there being any soloist events at the annual Concert Choir competition; it would have defeated its purpose.

 

So, between the article and the book, I pondered the question: Did I think Garrett was capable of murder, based on what I'd read of the evidence presented at his trial and the testimony of several people, one of whom was one of his several ex-wives?

 

I'm still not sure. But when I look at his senior-year photo in my yearbook, I recognize a particular vacancy that I've seen in other eyes - eyes belonging to Ted Bundy, and Wayne Gacy, and Richard Ramirez. In writing this article, I've looked at that photo more in a few months than I ever did in the previous 30 years. Every time I did, I got a slight chill.

 


 

Garrett Eldred Wilson was convicted in 1999 and sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering his infant son, Garrett Michael Wilson, by suffocation in 1987 to cash in a large insurance policy he had on the infant. He was scheduled to be tried in autumn 2002 for his daughter Brandi Jean's earlier murder, which he is accused of committing for the same reason in 1981. I was unable to find further information on that case via the Web. He has a third child by his now-ex-wife Vicky Wilson, who maintains her belief that Garrett is innocent.

 

The CBS-TV series 48 Hours repeated on July 1, 2002 an episode which focused on the Wilson case. Writer Adrian Havill was also interviewed, and said, "I wouldn't want to be a juror in a case like this [Garrett Michael's murder]. I wouldn't know what to think." Jurors from that trial said it was [Wilson's ex-wife and Garrett Michael's mother] Missy Anastasi's testimony that let them to a guilty verdict, which they delivered two hours after adjourning to deliberate the case.

 

The newspaper The Prince Georges's Journal reported in its Nov. 7, 2000 edition that the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the lowest appellate court in the state, upheld Wilson's conviction in his sons death. But in its Aug. 6, 2002 edition, the newspaper reported that Maryland's highest appellate court overturned that conviction, based on its decision that "Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas Gansler, who prosecuted the case, acted improperly by using statistics in his closing arguments to calculate the probability of Wilson's innocence." That decision also found fault with Circuit Court Judge Ann S. Harrington for not correcting Gansler's supposed mistake, "despite previously establishing legal guidelines for the use of statistics in the trial."

 

The article also stated, "The Court of Appeals did not fault Harrington for citing the similar circumstances surrounding the 1981 death of Wilson's first child when sentencing him to life without parole, another of the legal challenges raised in the appeal."

 

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