She threw back her head and laughed. Her long blonde hair spilling down her back. Her blue eyes sparkled with excitement as she pouted her plump, cerise, glossy lips. The skirt she wore skimmed the tops of her toned thighs. Long, bare, tanned legs bewitched the male customers in the coffee shop. Her heeled sandals rang out a soft beat upon the wooden floor as she walked, flexing the muscles in her legs. Friends flanked her. Their eyes cast downward as they looked at the iPhone resting in her palm.
I nodded in the woman’s direction, tapping my pink Converse shoe on the metal table leg. “She’s next.” I sipped on my full-fat latte. For the first time today, I smiled.
The early afternoon sun beat down, slipping beneath the dark red canvas awning of the coffee shop. The canopy offered little protection from the sun’s heat. Unprotected skin sizzled and burned as UV rays bit unto uncovered flesh like fire ants. As I’m a redhead, I used nothing less than a 50 SPF. I never tanned, just burned.
Positioned in the shade, I enjoyed the sun’s heat. I sat back against the woven cane chair, relaxed and unnoticed. No one looked in my direction. Uninterested in the young girl enjoying a day out with her dad in Whitby. With my abundance of freckles and my long auburn pigtails, innocence radiated from me. The sightseers walking along Baxtergate would never suspect I was a serial killer. When selecting my victims, Costa Coffee was my favourite place. They littered our streets like flies, offering protection from the weather, no matter the season. Costa Coffee was a place people would never associate with a serial killer. That was the problem with society… it never stopped to consider that a serial killer might do ‘normal’ things. A serial killer would need to appear ‘normal’ to conceal their true nature… which was what I was exactly doing. While I didn’t agree with the term ‘normal’, I accepted it because of the convenience it afforded me.
Whitby was the next desirable place on my serial killing list. With its links to the supernatural, it possessed a dark history. Bram Stoker’s visit to Whitby in 1890 provided him with an atmospherical location for his gothic novel, Dracula. The fictional killer brought hordes of tourists and their money to its beaches. It was time for Whitby to embrace a new killer… the Gas Man. Once the town was linked to a serial killer as renowned as the Gas Man, its popularity would grow by significant proportions.
It was Goth Weekend. This event was first established in 1994 by Jo Hampshire and claimed to be one of the premier Goth events in the world. Twice a year, around April and October, Goths flocked to the coastal town of Whitby. However, some costumes on display leaned more towards bondage and S&M. I watched a man walk past with a metal cage around his lower jaw, wearing the tightest black leather trousers I’d ever seen someone squeeze themselves into. A set of handcuffs dangled from his belt hook. My suspicions were confirmed. He didn’t understand what an actual ‘Goth’ was. His dress was as factious as vampires.
I hated him on sight. Research was essential, no matter how trivial the subject appeared. I couldn’t respect anyone who neglected such fundamental details. He’d chosen his costume with his limited assumption of what a Goth would wear. The name Goth stemmed from the Germanic Tribes; Visigoths, who lived between the Danube and Dniester rivers, and the Ostrogoths, who lived in what we know now as Ukraine. The Romans found them barbaric and uncultured and harassed them for centuries. Later came the black clothing and dramatic makeup.
I’d toyed with the fantasy of a serial killer weekend. Imagine everyone dressing up as their favourite serial killer — like the Gas Man. My lips curled in distaste. Fantasy dissolving, as the man walked past. No doubt, everyone would walk around wearing a gas mask. Pleased with their faux authenticity of the serial killer. Given the pressure the police were under to catch the Gas Man, I’m sure they’d appreciate it if I went around wearing a gas mask. I’d be easier to identify and catch. Alas, it was a whimsical notion.
There I sat… the Gas Man. My fingers twisting around my auburn pigtail. Harmless to the onlooker. Unnoticed and preoccupied with selecting my next kill. People were so busy that their lives blinded them. They remained confident in their preconceived ideas of a killer, never seeing what was in front of their faces. I realised that it’s difficult to look at me and see a killer. At sixteen, I looked young for my age – more around the age of twelve. Zillions of freckles lined my cheeks and nose. I had soft, baby-faced features in which sat liquid brown, trusting eyes. The average sixteen-year-old would hate the fact that they looked more like twelve than sixteen. They would apply makeup in thick layers to disguise their very youthful appearance.
Me? I loved it.
The media gave birth to my serial killer name — Gas Man. Their assumptions towards my gender were provided to them by professional profilers. Their hypothesis corrupted by memories of the Yorkshire Ripper, who had terrorised the citizens of Yorkshire back in the 1970s. Peter Sutcliffe killed thirteen women and attempted to kill seven more before the police stopped him in 1981. West Yorkshire Police received much criticism in their handling of the case. The police had brought Peter Sutcliffe in for questioning on two separate occasions. At the start of Sutcliffe’s reign of terror, his victims had been prostitutes, taken while they walked the streets of the well-known red-light districts of Yorkshire. The police and press presented a united front in the embryonic stages of Sutcliffe’s killing rampage. They accepted the murders because of the victim’s profession. Categorised as an occupational hazard, the police response had been routine. The critique would influence their handling of such cases, even today. Mistakes like that didn’t just vanish. Their stain remained.
While the Gas Girl would have been a more appropriate title, it would be inconceivable to the police and their profilers. Girls don’t kill.
Besides, Gas Girl didn’t induce the same intimidating fear
as Gas Man. Perhaps it’s the word ‘man’ which made it sound more threatening. How they reached this conclusion was easy to understand, even without the haunting presence of Peter Sutcliffe. The body count was increasing at a worrying rate. It wasn’t logical for a girl of my age to be the killer. My victims came from the various towns and cities which made up Yorkshire. The geographic size of Yorkshire is 11,903 km². About 4,596 miles. A lot of ground for a ‘girl’ killer to cover, with no means of transport other than a push-bike which sat in the garage covered in cobwebs, and local transportation like buses, taxi cabs, and trains. It conjured up a comical vision of a girl sitting in a taxi and screaming, “Catch that man. I want to kill him!”
Despite there being a serial killer operating in the area, Yorkshire was a beautiful county. You should experience its Roman and Viking heritage, Norman castles, medieval abbeys, and its two national parks — the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales. Its cities included York, Leeds, Sheffield, and Huddersfield, etcetera. Have a look around but choose a day when I’m not around looking for my next victim. You might not get the chance to brag about how beautiful Yorkshire was. You could be famous suddenly as one of the Gas Man’s victims. Your picture could adorn TV screens and social media. You might be thinking… not under those circumstances. Well, as they say, you can’t have everything.
I looked across at Daddy as his eyes devoured the newspaper clasped between his chubby hands. Prior to the birth of the Gas Man, he’d never picked up a newspaper. Never mind contemplated reading one. The Gas Man was front page news, and he’d developed an intense thirst to lap up everything the paparazzi wrote about the serial killer. Caught within their web of lies and make-believe, Daddy hungered for more. Like a spider ready for the fly, the media spun its well-crafted silken web. Daddy drank it up, the thirst never wavering. I’d laugh at his newfound obsession if I considered him funny, but his delusional reasoning made me irritable. He was a rash I wish I could scratch away. Watching me kill did not make him the killer. He was getting too cocky, taking my killings and turning them into his glory. Cocky spelt sloppy. Too many killers found themselves in prison because they saw themselves as invincible.
I was having a lot of fun playing with the police and their profilers. Random… it was key to staying under their radar, allowing me to keep on killing. If I wasn’t careful, Daddy would bring my killing rampage to a premature end.
My eyes swung toward the woman still tittering over her iPhone, her friend’s laughter encouraging her to continue.
The rustling of paper drew my attention to the fat man next to me. Like a chauffeur, Daddy drove me around Yorkshire as I selected my victims. It wasn’t a difficult job, and it suited him. In his warped mind, he had become the Gas Man. An illogical and egotistical, distorted image. I was the killer, not him. He might be fatter and older than me, and at a hundred and ninety centimetres presented a more imposing figure, but still, he didn’t have what it took to kill. I was the lure, Daddy the restrainer. My tolerance was fast diminishing and useful or not, I found myself exasperated at how often I needed to remind him of his status. Perhaps, I had been too subtle. I smirked inward. My brother Jack would laugh at the idea of me being subtle. My directness at home was legendary.
Long before our law enforcement admitted they were dealing with a serial killer, social media had picked up on the increasing body count. It showed the power social media had on our everyday lives. People tweeted ‘Gas Man - a serial killer at large.’ Facebook users published ‘Gas Man strikes again - are we safe?’ The paparazzi were quick to add their own pressure onto our police. Photographs of gas masks peppered newspapers
and mobile screens.
My healthy fixation for oxygen led them to my serial killer name. The body’s requirement for oxygen fascinated me and I liked to suffocate my victims, slowly, watching them as they struggled to come to terms with death. Some cried and begged, while others became angry. Once their body stopped twitching and death claimed them, I carved the image of a gas mask into their right cheek. Some would consider my serial killer name a lazy attempt by the paparazzi at finding a more unique and threatening nickname. Me? I wasn’t bothered at all. As long as people kept fearing me, and I could keep on killing, I had no complaints. I had enough to contend with, with the sluggish slob sitting next to me.
Daddy looked over the newspaper, his eyes following the incline of my head to the girl and her seemingly identical friends. Cloning has been around since 1952 when scientists successfully cloned a tadpole. In 1992, scientists at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh revealed a cloned sheep known as Dolly. By 2005, scientists had cloned their first human embryo. While there are those that object to human cloning, the women here weren’t among them. They looked alike and acted alike, losing their individual identities and turning into clones of each other.
“She seems popular.”
I rolled my eyes at his comment. He wasn’t a risk-taker, nor was he imaginative. That’s what he needed me for, amongst other things. “It’ll make it more interesting,” I coaxed.
He continued to stare at the clones for a prolonged second. I picked up the empty coffee mug and tapped my fingers against it. As my stubby nails sent out a soft ringing noise, I watched Daddy’s eyes lower back to the newspaper. I allowed him time to ponder my suggestions. The art of manipulation was to allow for gentle processing. Rush them and people will never do what you want. Manipulation is a time-consuming and taxing process.
It was her popularity that attracted me. I hated her on sight. Flanked by her friends, laughing and gaining attention by the second, she made popular look easy. She was the image I worked hard to project to the world. To gain people’s trust, I became the very thing I despised. I wasn’t interested in people, other than killing them. I disliked having to converse with them, pretending their silly problems interested me. Loners made society uneasy, viewing them as recluses or mavericks. To look and act like everyone else are traits that made someone popular.
Popularity has its problems, though. Without individual personalities, they were boring. Yes, they were pretty with their long hair in varying shades and beautiful made-up faces. Their skin almost orange from too much spray tan and their super skinny bodies encased in super tight trousers and skimpy tops. Their oversized handbags hooked over one arm, with the ever-present mobile phone grasped in the other hand. Boring.
It wasn’t suitable for a killer (if they wanted to keep killing), to present the world with their lack of emotional connection. The world demanded ‘normal’ whatever that meant. Therefore, I was forced to conceal my true nature. Not having the same emotional constraints induced fear in people. Like the women in the coffee shop, I pretended to be a clone, adhering to society’s demands.
I’d read an interview with psychologist James Garbarino which grabbed my attention. He was an advocate for giving teenage killers a second chance. A load of dribble based on unfounded theories that didn’t consider the true workings of a killer’s mind. That was my opinion, as imperfect and judgemental it might be. As a teenage killer, I had more experience in this matter than Garbarino. His hypothesis outlined that underneath the layers of violent and sociopathic tendencies, there was a person who needed ‘help.’ Quite a laughable conjecture to one such as me. I view psychologists as egotistical. Their notion that they could save a killer meant that killers were mindless creatures that could be controlled, manipulated and reprogrammed.
That’s where they got it all wrong. Killing was an instinct. How could they overwrite the brain’s natural impulses based on the creature’s nature? An alligator will eat you if presented with the opportunity. The basic need for food overrode the conscious brain. An alligator would look at humans the same way we view chocolate — as a yummy snack. Garbarino might want to ‘help’ someone like me, but he couldn’t save me. I had a deep loathing towards professionals like James Garbarino.
Psychologists operated under the illusion that they understood a killer’s viewpoint, but a psychopath’s brain functions are different. Without the predisposition to kill, one can’t truly comprehend why killers like me kill and enjoy it. Garbarino spoke of moral dilemmas. Those morals are theirs, not mine. I have none. When I kill, I am made whole. How could the likes of Garbarino internalise that?
Psychologists are singular in their analysis of us. They’d like us to conform with the labels they assigned to us. Their encroachment upon my mental wellness was unwarranted. I had no self-righteous need to inflict my view upon the clone girls in the coffee shop. I might not like them, but I had no need for their brain’s cognitive reasoning to echo my own. Years spent observing behaviours did not enable a person to fathom the inner working mind of another. A killer was an artful schemer. Even when captured, their answers and actions depended on their level of boredom and self-interest. Imprisonment of the body did not prevent the mind from seeking chaos. The game between psychologists and law enforcement did not affect them.
A killer would still play with your mind, if you let it.
I ground my teeth as Daddy shuffled the newspaper. The act reminded me of his presence. I despised the fact that I needed him. My small body forced me to accept his help and it infuriated me. At eight, when I’d first killed, I’d been unaware of my limitations. As I grew older and wiser, I found I could no longer ignore my body’s shortcomings. They screamed at me daily. Daddy’s existence was a constant reminder of my body’s frailty, like the itching of an insect bite that was hard to ignore.
Perhaps I should swat him away, stop him from biting at my nerves. I smiled, appreciating the image of his head squashed at an odd angle beneath a giant swatter. Daddy’s attitude towards me was changing. The delusional fool was under the misplaced notion that he could control me. I couldn’t allow this new-found attitude of Daddy’s from developing any further. The necessity of finding a replacement had become more urgent.
I eliminated my problems in a simplistic and enjoyable fashion; I killed them. Him being my father changed nothing. I felt nothing for him but irritation. An emotion I would be better without. His arrogance would be his destruction. He was getting older and slower. Daddy didn’t notice his body ageing, but I did. It was slowing down, his muscles complaining at night, and his increasing body mass created its own health problems. His beer consumption was another issue he refused to recognise. His liver, I was sure, worked overtime to cope.
I breathed deep, filling my lungs with warm air. The Beast woke; its paws stretching, claws raking at my tender skin. In silence, I nodded at the Beast. We needed a plan… one that would lead to Daddy’s beautiful and untimely death. Our heads inclined as one as we considered our options. Together, we drew up a mental list of activities Daddy performed for the
Gas Man. For me.
The Beast and I appraised the list. It was short, making Daddy easy to replace. When I killed, Daddy watched with eyes glistening with unsuppressed pleasure, as the light died from my victim's eyes. Life was fragile. It hung on by a delicate thread. That fact remained unappreciated until someone like me came along and extinguished it. Daddy also excelled in his role as the Gas Man’s cleaner, with his big bottles of bleach and long, black rubber gloves. His driving skill was suspect, though. We trundled along at a steady slow rate.
My gaze lingered on him as he continued to read the newspaper article. Beneath the layer of fat was muscle, though too much exertion led to profuse amounts of sweat, and yet he still believed he could control me. My eyes stared at his face where a smile tugged at the corners of his lips. He’d forgotten he was a nothing. A nobody. It took a special person to take a life and to feel no regret or remorse.
My killer-self awoke when I was eight, triggered by the cat next door. I observed in deep fascination as it stalked, toyed, and killed its prey. When the killing blow came and the mouse lay still, the cat walked away. Its fascination dying at the same point the mouse took its last breath. At that moment, I felt the Beast stir inside me. This strange, almost alien being whispered in my head, calling to the dormant killer within. I now understood why I could never give mum the emotional warmth she craved from me. Like the cat, I was a predator, and I will seize the advantage and kill. Freedom opened its door and I liked what I saw. The Beast raked claws against my flesh as it stretched out its paw. Its head raising with interest. I wanted to kill and taste the moment death came.
The next day, I sorted out the cat.
My Beast encouraged me to mimic its actions.
To stalk it.
Play with it.
And leave its lifeless body to rot.
Instantaneous gratification flooded my body. I understood the cat's need to kill. To be the hunter. My Beast smiled inside me, satisfied for a while.
Being only eight, I hadn’t learned, nor had thought about, covering my tracks. The only thing I cared about was my next kill. When Daddy found me covered in cat blood, he smiled. Revulsion never fell across his face. Instead, I became the solution. No longer would he have to satisfy his urges by watching televised re-enactments staged by TV producers. Naivety was not my blessing, however. At only eight, I was incapable of understanding Daddy’s weakness. Unconcerned, I welcomed the opportunity to learn how to become a better killer. Under Daddy’s careful instruction, I moved from the common pet to people. My youthful innocence evaporated. But Daddy stagnated as I grew. It wasn’t long before I came to understand how much he needed me. The older I became, the more Daddy’s usefulness waned. He was the cage that my killer-self paced within in. While he lived, he would forever try to control me and suffocate me. I would never reach my potential.
I cocked my head, flipping my pigtail over my shoulder.
My brown eyes lingered on the group of girls. “You know, we could make this a mass kill. That would be something new.”
In slow motion, Daddy lowered the newspaper. He looked
back at the girls, his hazel eyes sparkling with interest. He was so easy to manipulate. His tongue snaked out, wetting his lips. I watched his Adam’s Apple as it bobbed. Like a fish on a hook, I’d caught him. The Beast raised its head and together we surveyed our prey. My palms became sweaty. My pink t-shirt sticking to my skin. I uncrossed my legs, re-crossed them, lifting my mug off my skinny jeans. My eyes never left the Clones.
“I suppose we could do that.”
I smiled. Yes, I suppose we could.
It was time for the Gas Man to evolve, and Herman Webster Mudgett was my chosen source of inspiration. Born in the 1800s, Mudgett was a serial killer well beyond his time. Mudgett reinvented himself when he started working at a pharmacy in Edgewood, Chicago. Now known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, he embraced this new chapter in his life and started seducing women out of their money. H. H. Holmes had been an intelligent and respectable man on the outside... a killer and con man on the inside. His three-story house trapped his victims within its soundproofed rooms. It was a house of deception, with secret passages, trapdoors, and body-sized chutes that led the dead to two furnaces. Holmes used gas to asphyxiate them. You could never escape the body’s need for oxygen. The connection I felt with Holmes was more than just one killer appraising the other. We both had an insatiable appetite for starving our victims of oxygen. However, the most attractive fact about Holmes was the status he carried as America’s first serial killer. Holmes was an original. Rumoured to have killed twenty-seven people. Even today, no one knew the exact number of his victims. He professed to the murder of several people found to be alive. With only ashes to identify the body count, there was no way of confirming the full total. Holmes also confused authorities with his confessions. Even when captured, Holmes didn’t finish playing his games. An intelligent mind required stimulation, and Holmes found his new stimuli in playing with law enforcement. I wanted to be like Herman Webster Mudgett, also known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, but better.
Off the A64 eastbound sat an old derelict farmhouse which I’d passed many times while travelling in Daddy’s van. From my limited vantage point, the roofs looked shabby. Windows were missing, boarded-up, or broken. The owner had left it to rot. That didn’t matter, I’d offer it a new life. Give the farmhouse purpose and make it beautiful again. Holmes had converted his three-story home into a killer’s paradise. I would have Daddy convert the farmhouse as well. I didn’t expect to find electricity or gas to feed the property. But even if the utility feeds were live, I wouldn’t use them. I needed the farmhouse to remain off the grid, to keep its unassuming, dilapidated
Technology in the 1800s wasn’t what it is today. A killer needed to be smart. When Daddy caught me killing, he’d seen an opportunity and invested in it. I’d watched enough programmes like CSI and True Crime to understand how significant traceability and evidence were to the police. They played a key factor in capturing the killer. Growth in profiling enabled the police to get a clearer picture of the perpetrator. They were no longer looking for a monster, but a person where the monster lived.
Howard Teten and Patrick Mullany were the earliest credited with using behavioural analyses for problematic cases. Teten developed a hypothesis using evidence found at the crime scene to determine the perpetrator. I found Teten’s theory fascinating. I wondered what he’d say about Daddy’s habit of pouring copious amounts of bleach over my victim’s lifeless bodies. Once treated with bleach, Daddy wrapped the corpse in an unused plastic sheet. He would then dump the body on the roadside, miles away from the actual murder scene. It must be difficult to form a correct analysis when the crime scene itself wasn’t available. The police never made public if they’d found one of my crime scenes, and I never went back to find out. Killers who revisited their crime scene got caught.
I never crossed the arms of my victims. I left their faces on display, uncovered. I wasn’t sorry for the life I took and didn’t want to present the illusion that I was. The urge to play with the profilers was strong. To mislead them and cover the faces of the dead as I stared down at them. Like the cat played with the mouse. Playing with the local law enforcement and their advisors was tempting, but the kill took precedent. Too many killers became absorbed with the mind games and they lost. The only thing I left the profilers was my signature — a gas mask carved into the right cheek of my victims. They might think that the bleached bodies were part of a cleansing ritual or showed an obsessive tendency. I looked at Daddy. He was a neurotic chap, with his compelling need for cleansing the bodies and removing the evidence. The kill was the important part, not the game. Daddy’s need to dip the corpse in the corrosive substance would become redundant at the farmhouse. Like Myra Hindley and Ian Brady who buried their victims on Saddleworth Moor, the farmhouse sat within several acres of land. Enough space to bury the bodies. Daddy would realise only one of us was in charge then… and that’s me. He could try and take credit for my kills. The world was full of spineless, unimagi-
native people like him. But I won’t let that happen.
I took a deep calming breath. My anger dispersed as air expelled.
I thought about an article I’d read on former FBI Agent John Douglas. Douglas was very influential in the science behind criminal investigation and criminal profiling. The studying and comprehension of profiling are important for someone like me. If I understood how profiling was being used to catch the perpetrator, I could use it against the profiler. God bless a profiler’s need to write books, appear on TV shows and the internet. Human nature hasn’t evolved. We still carry the basic need to be applauded for our work. Told ‘well done’ and patted on the head, like a dog longing to hear it’s a ‘good dog.’ It hinders the fight against crime. Too many people like to boast about how they’d caught the killer or prevented a crime. They put their work into books, did TV interviews and such. Douglas believed that to understand the artist, you looked at the artwork. I must admit that I viewed my kills as beautiful pieces of art. Douglas also reasoned that to understand the criminal, one must study the crime. It was no longer enough for killers like me to kill. We had to be smart.
The Gas Man was a complex killer. It seemed the police and their advisors could not comprehend that the killer was a girl of sixteen years/ Or perhaps they looked at the artistry of the kill and concluded the perpetrator was male, with a job that led him to encounter a wide selection of people. A job which required him to travel. Perhaps their theories made them think that the Gas Man’s occupation was that of a long-distance lorry driver. It would make sense.
It wasn’t easy for the profiler to see me. No one wanted to believe in the possibility of an eight-year-old girl evolving into the Gas Man. Eight is such a tender, impressionable, innocent age. The police and their profilers would never catch me. Until they saw the evil in their young, their reasonings would always have its limitations. And because of that, killers like me will
continue to kill… unnoticed.
Society will never change or adapt its point of view of people like me. Like a myth or fairy tale, preconceived ideas are hard to let go. People wanted to believe in the innocence and the beautiful purity of their young.
Technology worked for the police and the killer, like a game of spider and fly. I would never become a fly, that title would belong to Daddy, but he’s too stupid to realise it. I’ve spent hours researching to ensure I remained under the police radar. Being careful prevented correlations from forming. My enjoyment came from mixing things up, like a bag of sweeties.
The police had yet to locate all my victims. I made sure Daddy placed some in deep graves rather than leaving them all by the roadside. I enjoyed keeping pieces of the jigsaw puzzle hidden.
Once, I overheard a chap say serial killers were stupid. Yet most serial killers managed to murder several people before being caught. Not so stupid, if you asked me. The chap’s dead now, so are his opinions, buried in one of those deep graves of Daddy’s. Perhaps now, he had a better understanding of a serial killer’s mind. If he’d been clever, he’d never have allowed me to kill him.
The metal legs of the chair scraped across the concrete as I stood up. “Fancy another?”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
The mugs clanged as I picked them up. I sauntered over to the barista, past the group of Clones. I smiled as I walked past them.
My smile said, “Which one of you am I going to kill first?”
The Clones ignored me, like so many stupid people before them.
This would be fun.