The influence of True Crime has touched my work. The ideas can be loosely based as in Escape from Dolphin Street or more overtly as in Lane Bowden 1973. A story takes on a sense of fear, a deeper horror that resonates, when put in the context of fiction that is based on a real life event. The genesis of Dolphin Street was a combination of true crimes. One crime in Billings, Montana (see The Curse of Dolphin Street blog) involved a vicious gang of street punks, a murder, and a body found under a house on the wrong side of the tracks. The punks knew about the body and did nothing at first. The case was similar in some ways to The River’s Edge (1987), a screenplay, based broadly on true events in 1981 where a teenager killed his girlfriend. The killer bragged to his stoned friends who went to see the body and then took days to report the murder to the police.
A second crime was in Houston, Texas which involved a victim tortured and burned while being held prisoner in a closet by some despicable thugs. Another one, was straight out of Edgar Allen Poe, a BDSM kink had gone bad. A dominant leather man walled up a suffocated, mummified submissive man hoping no one would find out. The Montrose of that time was the heart of the gay community, but it had a seedy side of drugs, prostitution, thrill-seekers, and runaways.
Against that true crime backdrop, I based Dolphin Street’s antagonists on the idea of the delinquents in Billings and Houston mixed with punk characters based on the riffraff that lived on the Montrose streets in the early 1990s. My protagonist were runaways coming from suburbia in search an imagined freedom from their desperate teenage lives. The places they visit are mixed with fact and fiction. The sorted Taco Shack and the punk/new wave Visions were loosely based on Taco Cabana (long gone) and the legendary club, Numbers. Other locations like Dolphin Street and the dilapidated house are fictional; although the train tracks that cross over a green bayou, through a bad place, are quite real. Scenes of my story reflect the true crimes with the body under the house, the closet torture, and the mummification having echoes of truth to them. The Montrose was a crazy place and highly influenced my early works.
Violence circled the Montrose with roaming hooligans that would attack and sometimes kill gay men going to the bars. The most famous case was the Broussard gay-bashing murder of 1991 involving a man who was beaten and stabbed to death by a gang of teenagers. In 2009, when I released my first book set in the Montrose, Where the Road Roams, I went on The Prison Show, on 90.1 KPFT, to promote it. I did not feel right about the venue as that book seemed wrong for the audience. Ray Hill, the radio host, insisted and the spot was quick and strange. I guess he did it because I had been asking about Elmer Wayne Henley who Ray was familiar from visiting prisons. Ray, a cat burglar who had done time for theft in his youth, was an activist for prison reform and separately, gay rights. The case of the Houston Mass Murders was reopened at that time, 2009, and new victims of Dean Coryl, David Brooks, and Henley were brought to light with DNA evidence. The discussion led to me discovering Ml73-3356 at a burial of unknown remains in a pauper’s field near Texas City which Ray had gotten me an invitation. The reconstructed image of the dead teenager from decades past struck me. I wondered what his life was life, who he was before he died.
Researching Lane Bowden 1973, I went down a rabbit hole of true crime (see past blogs Unidentified Remains and Research for a Dark Journey). Unlike Dolphin Street, Lane Bowden 1973 is set in a tightly real world of the past during one summer week, from Saturday, July 7th — Friday, July 13th, with an epilogue on August 8th, 1973, the day the bodies were found. I chose not to write from a killer’s point of view and to tell Lane Bowden 1973 through the lens of a protagonist not aware of his surroundings and the evil that lurks in the fringes. Although, the main characters are fictional, all the places, the timeline, and the antagonists are based on fact. One of the comments the manuscript of Lane Bowden 1973 received was that the year was too much of character and needed to be subtle. The critic may be right, but I wanted to feel the everyday world of the Heights, where Lane Bowden lived, like I was living it. The hardest part was the ending. I chose to see it though with a touch of fantasy that does not cheat the story or lessen the real tragedy.
The influence of True Crime as genre has touched others. I recently discovered Mindhunter, based on the book, and am enthralled with the story. The events are real with fictional leanings on the protagonists, yet all the interview segments are based on actual FBI recordings with serial killers. Elmer Wayne Henley even appears in the fourth episode of season two. Having done the research, I found it interesting and disturbing. I hope my book, Lane Bowden 1973, inspired by the true story of the Houston Mass Murders, elicits a similar feeling and also sheds light on a lost time of muscle cars, parties, and rock and roll where teenagers vanished and were never seen again.
P.S. I am looking forward to my new writing project, Future-Thrill, and to other thrills the future may bring!
Dolphin Street, the screenplay, is a finalist at the South Carolina Underground Film Festival happening November 8th-10th, 2019.
The book, Escape from Dolphin Street, is available in e-book and paperback formats for the curious.
The picture below is a mock-up cover for Lane Bowden 1973 created to emphasize the true crime nature of the manuscript which is in the submission process.