By Katherine Ramsland
As I wade through literature on serial killers, sometimes I come across unique motivations.
I offer three such cases below:
1) Across a period of 3 weeks back in May 1942, three women were found in Melbourne, Australia, strangled, bruised, and dumped on the streets. Their clothing was disheveled or torn to shreds. A sentry on the U.S. Army base recalled an agitated GI returning on one of those evenings who’d had yellowish mud on his uniform. Investigators knew that one of the victims was found near a pit of yellow mud.
The GI was Edward Joseph Leonski, a tall blond from Texas with an engaging smile. He’d get upset at the drop of a hat and had once told another GI that he was a Jekyll and Hyde. Under questioning, Leonski readily admitted to killing the three women.
He had a victim type, but Leonski did not pick them for how they walked, looked, or smelled. He’d selected his victims by their voices. Leonski had missed his mother terribly and when these women had talked with him, they’d reminded him of her. One victim had even sung a song to him, which had agitated him into “madness.” He could not bear the thought of leaving her, so he’d strangled her to “take” her voice with him.
Leonski’s family had a considerable history of insanity, but the “Singing Strangler” failed to convince a judge that he was not responsible, and he was convicted and hanged.
2) On September 12, 1931, as the Budapest-Vienna express train crossed a viaduct near Torbagy Station, the bridge exploded and the engine, along with 9 cars, plunged into the ravine. Twenty-two people died and 120 were injured.
Sylvestre (Szilveszter) Matushka, pretending to be an injured passenger, sued for damages. When investigators learned that he had purchased dynamite and that no one had seen him on the train, they arrested him.
Matushka finally confessed that he’d caused the explosion. His reported reason: to achieve sexual release. He’d eroticized the image of bodies ripped up by machines and he had planned to wreck one train per month. This had been his fourth attempt (two failures, two successes, but only one explosion had caused deaths). He was found guilty in 1932, but was freed (or escaped) from prison.
3) Melvin Rees, Jr. is so intriguing that I wrote an e-short about his case. After several murders had occurred around Maryland and Virginia during the 1950s, a man went to the police to suggest that his former housemate might be responsible. Rees was a jazz musician who’d been struck by the idea of committing murder as an “existential experience” and to prove his superiority.
Under arrest, he admitted to nothing, but was convicted of several of the 9 murders in which he was a suspect (including the murder of the four members of the Carroll Jackson family). He received the death penalty, but eventually stopped his appeals. As he stood before a judge in July 1966, barefoot, bearded, and disheveled, he attempted several times to remove his clothes.
Rees had been reading Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov,and he identified with Alyosha, the religious brother who had aspired to live a simple life, loving everyone and asking for nothing.
Ironically, the novel features a murder with philosophical justification similar to what Rees had once expounded. But he was now claiming that he’d received many revelations from God and therefore could not submit his fate to a human court. His case became a legal conundrum.
In a prison interview during the 1960s, Rees admitted to killing seven of the victims. He blamed his excessive use of speed. When abducting the Jackson family, he admitted, he’d been so pumped he’d been awake for five days running.
Just after he’d killed one victim, Rees recalled, in the style of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, he’d looked up at the sky and challenged it to strike him down. But he’d remained on his feet. He’d felt invincible.
Substance abuse had empowered the “Sex Beast” and existential philosophies had offered an ennobling frame. Rees had even kept a journal to remind himself of his supposed power over others.