How Did a Nice Banker Get Involved with Serial Killers?
by Carl Vonderau
It wasn’t that I was fascinated with serial killers.
Before writing Murderabilia, my previous thrillers had more to do with the financial services industry and the countries I know like Colombia, Canada, and Algeria. But then I started playing the “what if” game and combining ideas.
Things got weird — fast.
It all started with a secret. Everyone has at least one. A good secret can be the center of a novel and often drives the plot forward. I wondered what a private banker for the extremely wealthy might keep hidden. What if his father was a killer? That could be something he didn’t want his colleagues to discover. But what if it was worse than that? Suppose his father was a serial killer, a more egregious scandal for my tony banker. Even better — suppose his father is notorious. Maybe he’s as well known as Dennis Rader, Jeffery Dahmer, or Charles Manson. He is so creepy that deranged fans revere him and create internet sites about him.
So why is the father so notorious? Well, a real killer, Harvey Glatman, took photos of his victims. That’s promising (for a crime writer, anyway). Suppose my protagonist’s serial killer father went one step further. What if he took artsy black-and-white photos of the rearranged bodies of his victims with props? Suppose they were well-composed and professionally lit. What normal person would admit to being related to that psychopath? So you’re his son? You inherited his genes?
Another author once told me that being creative in fiction doesn’t require a revolutionary idea. You just have to combine two or three existing ideas in a way no one has before. I had several of those ideas: private banking, son of an infamous serial killer, and victim photography. But there was something else I could combine.
In researching serial killers, I discovered there actually is a market for their art called “murderabilia.” Paintings by Manson, John Wayne Gacy, and a hundred others are traded through brokers and dealers who advertise on the web. This is real stuff, and it’s creepier than anything I could make up. Clown paintings by Gacy go for more than $100,000. One dealer said a mother bought a Gacy painting for her 12-year-old on his birthday.
What if the serial killer father in my book became so famous people bought and sold his photographs? Suppose those photographs started the “murderabilia” market and some are even on display in museums. Now I was starting to get ideas about the tortured past of his son, my protagonist. My private banker wouldn’t want anyone to even suspect who his father was. All kinds of character flaws and motivations emerged. He’d feel as if he could never escape his father’s horrible legacy. But I wasn’t done yet.
I grew up a Christian Scientist but left the religion when I went to college. Christian Science is so unusual that I always wanted to make it an element in a book. It’s an incredibly philosophical religion. Evil is regarded as a false conception. If a person stops believing evil is inside a person, if they understand that people really reflect God’s perfection, then the evil will cease to exist. Now there is a great religion for the wife of a serial killer — especially if she is fanatical about her devotion. Just imagine how that would enable her husband to pursue his photography and how it would unsettle her children.
There was only one thing left. I’m not a photographer. But I could learn. I got an instructional DVD from a National Geographic photographer and bought some books on the history of photography. A side benefit was that through research, I became interested in photography, and now I’m going to a class every week.
So you see how weird even an analytical banker can get when he starts playing the what if game and combining ideas. The people I worked with thought I was so conservative and normal — well, maybe not completely normal — if they only knew.
What if they really had known?
Carl Vonderau grew up in Cleveland in a religious family that believed that God could heal all illness. He left that behind him when he went to college at Stanford and studied economics. Somehow, after dabbling in classical guitar, he ended up in banking. Carl lived and worked in Latin America, Canada, and North Africa, and conducted business in Spanish, French and Portuguese. He also secretly wrote crime novels. Now, a full-time author, he also helps nonprofit organizations. He and his wife reside in San Diego, where their two sons live close by. Check out more at http://carlvonderau.com/.