I’ve mentioned once or twice that I recently found a new podcast that I just love. It’s called My Favorite Murder and it’s about…well…murder.
The basic premise of the podcast is that hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark are fascinated by murder mysteries, serial killers, strange disappearances, all that kind of thing. Most weeks they have a theme and each week they each share a story that fits in with the theme. There are some seriously messed up people out there, friends.
They also have a closed Facebook group full of really awesome people that share all kinds of additional stories, thoughts, etc. It’s closed so that the posts don’t show up on your feed and prompt questions from friends as to why you’re in a Facebook group about murder.
One of the things Karen and Georgia have encouraged is for listeners to share the stories of murders from their hometowns, and more recently, the stories that first got us interested in this morbid topic.
I grew up watching Dateline and have always had a soft spot for Forensic Files.
The first serial killer I distinctly remember hearing about was the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, who terrorized Southern California when I was a kid. Things got so scary, in fact, that Punky Brewster had a Very Special Episode in which Punky was afraid that Henry would be murdered if he went out bowling at night.
I remember when Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested, and when I lived in Utah I ran into all sorts of weird connections to Ted Bundy.
There was a time when I could not get enough of the Sigourney Weaver movie Copycat.
But the case that had the most lasting impact on me, that started my fascination with this weird world–
(Which, PLEASE be clear, does NOT mean I am the least bit interested in actually murdering anybody. Because I really am lazy and it just sounds like a lot of work.)
–was a case that happened in 1983 in my hometown of Chino Hills, California.
In 1983, a man named Kevin Cooper escaped from what is known as Chino Men’s Prison. It’s official name is something like California Institute for Men at Chino or something like that. But we always just called it Chino Men’s.
So this guy Kevin Cooper escaped through a hole in a freaking fence on June 2, 1983.
On the morning of June 5, just three days later, this man named Bill Hughes went to the neighbors’ house to pick up his son, who had been spending the night. When he got there, he discovered that three members of the Ryen family, and his own son, had been murdered during the night and the family car had been stolen.
One member of the Ryen family was left for dead, but would end up surviving the attack: the 8-year-old son Josh.
Over the subsequent weeks, it was determined that escapee Kevin Cooper had been holed up in a guest house next door during the days before the Ryens were murdered. On the night of June 4, he hitchhiked to Mexico and caught a boat up to Santa Barbara, where he was eventually arrested seven weeks later.
He went to trial for the murders and was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty. He’s been on Death Row in San Quentin since 1985, and was actually scheduled for execution a couple of years ago, but the execution was stopped when a judge put a hold on executions in California because of some issue with the lethal injection drug cocktail. I believe he’s still next in line for execution if California ever actually starts them up again, which is doubtful.
So I grew up knowing the terrible case of what happened to the Ryen family. Josh was sent to live with relatives far away, which I’m sure was the best thing for him. I can’t imagine if he’d had to grow up in our town, constantly reminded of what happened to him and his family.
In 2005, he issued a statement about his experiences, and it is absolutely heartbreaking.
But here’s where things are a little bit weird.
It’s *possible* Kevin Cooper didn’t do it. Or, at least, that he didn’t act alone.
I mean, there is a ton of physical evidence that implicates Cooper. A button from his jacket was found. There was blood discovered in the drains of the house where he’d been hiding. That kind of thing.
But then there’s the fact that multiple murder weapons were used, which is not unheard of, but definitely strange for a single killer.
Witnesses said they saw three white men fleeing the area in a station wagon.
There’s some confusion about what Josh Ryen actually saw. He at first said it was three white or Mexican men, because three men had come to the house earlier in the day looking for work. He never actually identified the killer, however, until a long time after and did later say that he just saw one man killing his mother.
A woman called the police on June 9, 1983 to say that she thought her boyfriend might have been involved because he had stopped by home in an unfamiliar station wagon and had changed his clothes. She threw the clothes away, but was pretty sure they were splattered with blood.
So, it’s a strange case. There are some unanswered questions.
But it has always stayed with me. Always been there in the back of my mind. It’s what keeps me turning on lights the second I walk into a dark room. What keeps me locking all of my doors every night, and locking things up extra tight when I’m home alone.
And it’s what started me on the path of being fascinated by this crazy, sick, twisted world.
No, I’m not one of those crazy people that writes to death row inmates or anything like that. I want them to be far removed from me.
But I find myself drawn into trying to understand what has to go wrong in a person’s mind that causes them to do this and to live with themselves afterward.
What about you? Are you fascinated by murder? Or is your weird curiosity about something else? Because I know we ALL have something.
And if you ARE interested in murder, you should really check out this podcast. You’ll feel a little less weird about it. Or at least more accepted.