Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Killer in the Dark

After studying serial killers in popular fiction this semester, I am writing a story about one hiding in the wilderness. So for this final blog of the semester--a blog discussing a real psycho--I have taken a man from frontier times. Accessing this tale contributes to my story by illuminating what scares readers in a similar context. So, without further ado, Charles Kennedy is the psycho that contains several elements that can factor into my latest work.

Reports conflict slightly, but a few details tend to hold constant. Kennedy made his home near Taos, New Mexico. He lived in an isolated cabin with his family. When travelers passed by, he’d kill them. One night, his son informed a visitor that there were bodies under the house, which quickly sparked Kennedy into a murderous rage. His wife escaped, though, and found help. Kennedy was arrested, but instead of being given a proper trial, he was quickly executed (stories differ on how, though).

Kennedy’s tale terrifies for several reasons. The isolation creates an uneasy sense that even if victims escaped, they might not reach help and safety in time. Also, Kennedy knew the region, thrived in the seclusion, and could act as a trapdoor spider, tricking people in and hunting them as needed. He becomes the monster in the darkness of the wilderness, the evil that keeps people fearful of leaving the edge of town. Another detail that I’ve connected between different versions of this tale was the manner in which Kennedy handled the remains of his victims. Many agree that he burned and buried his victims. His place of residence thus becomes the heart of the evil. It’s a terrifying place to imagine, with bones strewed around the fire place, bodies waiting for cremation and rotting under the house, and Kennedy himself drinking and brooding about more victims. Animalistic in nature, his cabin becomes a lair of carnage.

My imaginings of his cabin correlated with at least one scene I’ve been planning for my own story: a cabin scene. Since my story has to do with an over-enthusiastic hunter, his cabin will similarly be a dwelling for his malevolence. He might have victims hanging upside down, some draining and some already skinned--but it would also be terrifying for the protagonists to gaze into a fire and see a charred skull staring back. These details are all pretty adaptable, yet very chilling.

On a final note, something else troublesome about Kennedy is that not all of his victims were accounted for. Some sources claim he may have had up to 100 victims. Fear stems from the unknown, and not knowing how many more bodies remain in the wilderness outside Taos is worrisome. Similarly, in my story, the killer may or may not be caught in the end, but bodies will certainly pop up from the cold earth for years to come after he’s through with the region.


  1. Interesting background and premise for your story. Wow, to kill and have your family know about it. That just makes the head spin.
    I like the statement "Fear stems from the unknown." That's definitely what I think drives so many stories and movies in this genre. The fear of not knowing what's going to happen or internalizing the fear of not knowing how or if you'd get out.

  2. After reading this, I had to go look up when it happened. I'm not sure which though is more frightening--happening 140 years ago, 40 years ago, or in some out of the way corner of the world in the present. Good material for a story.

  3. This is frightening, indeed! At that time, travel took a long time anyway, so victims' families wouldn't even know they had been killed and weren't just delayed for some other reason. Of course, once they didn't show up, there would be inquiries, but how would they know their loved ones hadn't just become the victims of wild animals? Crazy that they did, but the two legged variety.

  4. I do love a good "isolated weirdo in the wilderness bumping people off who get too close" story but I'm wondering about a few things. Do they have any motive for why he did it? Was he a weirdo with a persecution complex? Was he a bandit who waylaid travelers and killed them for their belongings? If his family was aware of his behavior, I'm inclined to believe the latter. Either way, there's some pretty good ideas hanging off this for future fictional use.