Authors: Poppy Z. Brite,Deirdre C. Amthor
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(also published as
Love in Vein
To my mother, Connie Burton Brite, who gave me all the guts I would ever need
Records of the 1994 autopsy of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer reveal that officials kept Dahmer's body shackled at the feet during the entire procedure, “such was the fear of this man,” according to pathologist Robert Huntington.
âAP, March 17, 1995
ometimes a man grows tired of carrying everything the world heaps upon his head. The shoulders sag, the spine bows cruelly, the muscles tremble with weariness. Hope of relief begins to die. And the man must decide whether to cast off his load or endure it until his neck snaps like a brittle twig in autumn.
Such was my situation late in my thirty-third year. Although I deserved everything the world had heaped onâand torments after death far worse than any the world could threaten: the torture of my skeleton, the rape and dismemberment of my immortal soulâthough I deserved all that and more, I found that I could no longer bear the weight.
I realized I didn't
to bear it, you see. I came to understand that I had a choice. It must have been difficult for Christ himself to withstand the agonies of the crossâthe filth, the thirst, the terrible spikes raping the jellied flesh of his handsâknowing he had a choice. And I am not Christ, not even by half.
My name is Andrew Compton. Between 1977 and 1988 I killed twenty-three boys and young men in London. I was seventeen years old when I began, twenty-eight when they caught me. All the time I was in prison, I knew that if they ever let me out I would continue killing boys. But I also knew they would never let me out.
My boys and young men were transients in the city: friendless, hungry, drunk and strung out on the excellent Pakistani heroin that has coursed through the veins of London since the swinging sixties. I gave them good food, strong tea, a warm place in my bed, what few pleasures my body could provide. In return, all I asked was their lives. Sometimes they appeared to give those as readily as anything else.
I remember a sloe-eyed skinhead who went home with me because he said I was a nice white bloke, not a bleeding queer like most of these others that chatted him up in the pubs of Soho. (What he was doing in the pubs of Soho, I cannot tell you.) He did not seem inclined to revise his opinion even as I sucked his cock and slid two greased fingers into his anus. I noticed later that he had a dotted line tattooed in scarlet round his throat, along with the words
. I had only to follow directions. (“You look like a bleeding queer,” I'd told his headless corpse, but young Mr. White England had nothing to say for himself anymore.)
I killed most of the twenty-three by cutting. By severing their major arteries with a knife or a razor after they were insensible from drink. I killed them this way not out of cowardice or from a wish to avoid struggle; though I am not a large man, I could have overcome any of my half-starved, drug-addled waifs in a fair fight. I killed them by cutting because I appreciated the beautiful objects that their bodies were, the bright ribbons of blood coursing over the velvet of their skin, the feel of their muscles parting like soft butter. I drowned two in the bath, and choked one with the laces of his own Dr. Marten boots as he lay in a drunken stupor. But mostly I killed them by cutting.
This is not to say that I took them to pieces for pleasure. I
found no joy in gross mutilation or dismemberment, not then; it was the subtle whisper and slice of the razor that appealed to me. I liked my boys as they were, big dead dolls with an extra weeping crimson mouth or two. I would keep them with me for as much as a week, until the smell in my flat grew obvious. I did not find the odour of death unpleasant. It was rather like cut flowers left too long in stagnant water, a heavy sickish sweetness that coated the nostrils and curled into the back of the throat with every breath.
But the neighbours complained, and I would have to invent some excuse or other, something about my waste disposal backing up or my toilet having overflowed. (Humiliating, and ultimately futile, for it was a neighbour who called the police in the end.) I would leave a boy in my armchair when I went to work, and he would be waiting patiently for me when I came home. I would take him into my bed and cradle his creamy smoothness all night. For a day or two days or a week I wouldn't feel alone. Then it would be time to let another one go.
I would use a saw to cut him in half at the waist, to separate the arms from the torso, to bisect the legs at the knee. I would wrestle the segments into bulging bags of wet garbage, where their odd angles and powerful stench might be disguised, and leave them out for collection. I would drink whiskey until the flat spun. I would vomit in the basin and sob myself to sleep, having lost at love again. I did not come to appreciate the aesthetics of dismemberment until much later.
But for now I sat in a dank cell in Her Majesty's Prison Painswick, in Lower Slaughter near the industrial wasteland of Birmingham. These lurid appellations might seem designed to terrify and titillate the soul, and so they do. Look on any map of England and you'll find them, along with places called Grimsby, Kettle Crag, Fitful Head, Mousehole, Devil's Elbow, and Stool End Farm. England is a country that spares no resonance or descriptive colour in its place-names, forbidding though they may be.
I'd looked around my cell without much interest when they brought me in five years ago. I knew I was classed as a Category
was the least dangerous sort;
types you mightn't want to turn your back on;
was, of course, the ravening killer.) The papers had dubbed me “The Eternal Host” and invested my unremarkable black-and-white visage with a dread that bordered on the talismanic. The contents of my flat had been lovingly inventoried a hundred times over. My trial was a legal circus of the vilest sort. The possibility of my escape was deemed highly dangerous to the public. I would remain Category
until the day I died with my eyes fixed on some bleak eternity beyond these four mouldering stone walls.
I could receive no visitors without approval from the prison governor and close supervision. I didn't care; everyone I had ever loved was dead. I could be denied education and recreation, but at that time there was nothing more in life I wanted to learn, no fun I wanted to have. I must endure a light burning constantly in my cell, all night, all day, until the outline of it was seared into my corneas. All the better, I thought then, to stare at these hands steeped in blood.
Aside from my blazing bulb and my guilty hands, I had an iron bed bolted to the wall and covered with a thin lumpy mattress, a rickety table and chair, and a pot to piss in. I often reminded myself that at least I had a pot to piss in, but this was cold comfort indeedâquite literally so on winter mornings in Painswick. I had all these things inside a stone box of a cell measuring three and a half by four metres.
I wondered how many of Her Majesty's prisoners realized the extra half-metre along one wall was a subtle form of torture. (As Oscar Wilde was being hounded in chains round the prison yard, he remarked that if this was how Her Majesty treated prisoners, she had no business having any.) When I looked at this wall for a long time, which was the only way I could look at it, the wrong geometry began to hurt my eyes.
For more than a year the imperfect square tormented me. I visualized all four walls grinding in, cutting off that dreadful extra half-metre, beginning to crumble around me. Then gradually I got used to it, and that chilled me as much as the torment had done. I've never liked getting used to things, especially when I am given no choice in the matter.
Once they realized I wasn't going to make trouble, I was given all the notebooks and pencils I wanted. I was seldom allowed out of my cell except for solitary exercise and showers; sodden joyless meals were brought to me by silent guards with faces like the judgement at the end of time. I could do no harm with my pencils save driving one into my own eye, and I wore them down too dull for that.
I filled twenty notebooks my first year, thirty-one my second, nineteen my third. At this time I was as close to true remorse as I ever came. It was as if I had been in a dream that lasted eleven years, and had woken from it into a world I barely recognized. How had I ever done twenty-three killings? What had made me want to? I attempted to plumb the depths of my soul with words. I dissected my childhood and family (stultifying but hardly traumatic), my sexual history (abortive), my career in various branches of the civil service (utterly without distinction, except for the number of times I was fired for insubordination to my superiors).
This done, and little learned, I began to write about the things that interested me now. I found myself with a great many descriptions of murders and sex acts performed upon dead boys. Small details began to return to me, such as the way a fingerprint would stay in the flesh of a corpse's thigh as if pressed into wax, or a cold thread of semen would sometimes leak out of a flaccid penis as I rolled it about on my tongue.
The only constant; thread running through my prison notebooks was a pervasive loneliness with no discernible beginning and no conceivable end. But a corpse could never walk away.
I came to understand that these memories were my salvation. I no longer wanted to know why I had done such things if it meant I wouldn't want to do them anymore. I put my notebooks aside forever. I was different, and that was all. I had always known I was different; I could not trudge through life contentedly chewing whatever cud I found in my mouth, as those around me seemed to do. My boys were only another thing that set me apart from the rest.
Someone had loved my boys once upon a time, someone who did not have to steal their lives to show that love. Each had been someone's baby once. But so had I, and what good did it ever do me? By all accounts, I emerged from the womb quite blue, with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck, and my state of life or death was disputed for several minutes before I sucked in a great gulp of air and began to breathe on my own. The boys I killed may have been strapping infants, but at the time of their deaths they were intravenous drug users who shared needles as if borrowing one another's pocket handkerchiefs, who often traded blowjobs for cash or a fix. Of those I took to bed with me while they were still alive, not one asked me to use a condom, and not one expressed concern when I swallowed his sperm. I suspected later that I might have actually saved lives by killing some of them.