Editorial: The missing link in murder
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2005:
Voting Republican by a two-to-one margin in each election of
this decade, Frankfort, Indiana, will never be mistaken for a
bastion of bleeding-heart liberalism. The phrase “animal rights” has
appeared in the hometown newspaper, the Frankfort Times, on only
three occasions since 1997, according to an electronic search–and
has never been used in a positive context.
Yet no one in Frankfort seemed even mildly surprised on
December 21, 2004, when Clinton Superior Court Judge Kathy Smith
jailed convicted dog shooter William Pierce, 55, for nine months.
Pierce on Halloween 2004 shot his own Basset hound puppy. The police
said Pierce did it because the puppy defecated on the floor. Pierce
said he did it because the pup was barking. Either way, Pierce then
wrapped the wounded puppy in plastic and tossed him into a trash can.
“Studies show that a person who tortures an animal is likely
to hurt a human being. We want to make sure we get a handle on
this,” said Judge Smith.
Following his jail time, Pierce is to serve 21 months on
probation, during which he must refrain from all contact with
alcohol, pets, firearms, and three persons including his estranged
The most remarkable aspect of the case, from the ANIMAL
PEOPLE perspective, is that neither Frankfort Times reporter Janis
Thornton nor any authors of letters-to-the-editor seemed to find
either the sentencing or Judge Smith’s comments at all unusual.
Pierce was convicted of a felony. In 1992, when ANIMAL
PEOPLE debuted, just a handful of states permitted felony
convictions in cruelty cases, and no person convicted of cruelty to
an animal had served more than a few days of jail time within
decades, if ever. The concept that cruelty to animals frequently
precedes violence to people, though long known to criminologists,
was just beginning to gain currency with law enforcement and the
We now hear of similar sentences and judicial lectures to
convicted animal abusers several times per week. We picked the
Pierce case to cite almost by random draw.
The outcome of the Pierce case demonstrates remarkable
progress in achieving societal recognition of the association between
criminal abuse of animals and criminally harming humans. Much less
progress has been made toward achieving broad recognition that the
commission of illegal acts does not define the link.
The inhibition most relevant to the commission of a violent
crime, against either animals or people, is not the inhibition
against breaking a law, but rather the inhibition against harming a
sentient fellow being, especially one who struggles and protests.
If inhibition against lawbreaking really had any strong role
in preventing violent crime, the most dangerous members of society
might include litterbugs, shoplifters, and significant numbers of
people who drive cars.
To be sure, people who drive too fast, drive drunk, and
run stop signs kill nearly twice as many Americans each year as all
murderers combined, but their most frequent victims are themselves,
and neither driving habits nor histories of petty crimes against
property have any predictive value in suggesting who might commit
assault, rape, arson, or murder.
At least seven of the most publicized recent murder cases
demonstrate what the link really is, even though none of the alleged
and/or convicted killers had previous histories of criminally
* Just before Halloween 2004, Canadian Press obtained a
report produced for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police by Health
Canada, which confirmed longstanding suspicion that alleged serial
killer Robert Pickton, 54, of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia,
may have fed the remains of as many as 60 women to pigs who were
later slaughtered for human consumption. DNA testing has identified
teeth and bone fragments from 22 women who have been named in murder
indictments against Pickton. Pickton apparently pulverized the women
with a wood chipper–essentially the same method that many factory
farmers use to “recycle” into feed their dead livestock and still
living “spent” hens, except that the machine used to kill poultry is
called a “live macerator.”
* On November 21, 2004, Chai Soua Vang, 36, of
Minneapolis, allegedly massacred six fellow deer hunters and wounded
two others, after Vang was told to leave private property in Sawyer
County, Minnesota. Vang in April 2001 was fined $328 for possessing
93 more wild-caught fish than the legal limit; on Christmas Eve 2001
was jailed for allegedly threatening his wife with a handgun; and in
April 2002 failed to pay a $244 fine for hunting on posted land. In
the interim police visited his home five times to investigate
complaints about domestic disturbances and alleged theft. Chai Soua
Vang has pleaded innocent to murder charges, contending that the
shootings were self-defense.
* In Oakland, California, an Alameda County Superior Court
jury on December 14, 2004 recommended the death penalty for Stuart
Alexander, 43, after convicting him in October on three counts of
murder. The sentence was affirmed on February 15. Alexander, then
owner of the Santos Linguini Factory in San Leandro, in June 2000
turned on a surveillance camera, then killed USDA meat inspectors
Jean Hillary, 56, and Tom Quadros, 52, along with California state
meat inspector Bill Shaline, 57. Alexander also shot at California
meat inspector Earl Willis, 54, who escaped.
* Lisa Montgomery, 36, of Melvern, Kansas, on December
17, 2004 was charged with strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett, 23, of
Skidmore, Kansas, who was within days of giving birth. Montgomery
confessed, police said, to killing Stinnett the preceding day in
order to cut from her womb and kidnap her unborn daughter–who
survived. Both women were rat terrier breeders. Montgomery’s crime
was doing to Stinnett what puppy millers routinely do to bitches who
may die in labor, to save and sell their whelps.
* Game rancher Mark Scott-Crossley, 37, on January 24,
2005 went to trial in Phalaborwa, South Africa, for allegedly
ordering two employees to beat, tie, kick, and threaten former
employee Nelson Chisale, 41. Afterward they allegedly tossed
Chisale alive to the lions at the nearby Mokwalo White Lion Project.
The lions finished him off. Hardly anyone admits to hunting big cats
with live bait, but cases often surface, including the recent plea
bargain convictions of Jack Shealy, 44, and Richard Scholle, 57,
of Ochopee, Florida, for staking out a live goat on June 16, 2004
to lure a Florida panther. A third defendant, Jan Jacobson, 61,
videotaped the attack, and faces trial in March 2005. The panther
escaped the ambush. The goat, though badly injured, survived.
* On February 1, 2005, the Connecticut Supreme Court
indefinitely stayed the scheduled execution by lethal injection of
Michael Bruce Ross, 45, for killing eight young women in 1981-1984.
Ross apparently threw his first victim off a cliff, then strangled
seven more, including two 14-year-old friends he raped and killed in
front of each other. Ross also attacked at least three other women.
Incredibly, he was fined only $500 for unlawful restraint and
release after being caught with a 15-year-old he had tied up and
gagged. Raised on his parents’ egg farm in Brooklyn, Connecticut,
Ross choked spent hens as a routine chore. He later worked for an
egg farm in Licking, Ohio.
* Claude Dallas, 54, on February 6, 2005 was released
from the Idaho Correctional Institution in Orofino. Dallas, a
trapper, in 1981 shot Idaho Department of Fish & Game officers Bill
Pogue and Conley Elms, after they found two poached bobcat pelts in
his tent. Wounding Pogue and Elms with a handgun, Dallas then used
a.22 rifle to dispatch them like trapped animals, with point-blank
Blaming the victims feeds denial
Of the seven alleged and convicted murderers, only the
hunter Chai Soua Vang and the trapper Dallas had any history of
lawbreaking involving animals before killing humans. But their
offenses were legally defined as crimes against property:
trespassing plus unauthorized possession of the remains of animals
who belonged to the state, on behalf of the public.
Accordingly, neither mass media nor animal advocates have
made much of the role that routine cruelty to animals appears to have
played in both teaching the killers their methods and conditioning
them to transgress normal inhibitions against killing.
The very idea that widely practiced and broadly accepted
forms of cruelty to animals might be a precursor to violence against
humans tends to make most people uncomfortable. Robert Pickton, for
example, was just the sort of small-scale, self-reliant “Old
MacDonald” farmer whose image factory agribusiness hides behind.
Environmental groups dedicated to fighting urban sprawl and
maintaining “green space” subsidize the operations of many farmers
whose operations resemble his. People who eat pork like to imagine
that their pigs lived like Pickton’s–and are much less disturbed
that pigs are routinely tricked into cannibalism, like cattle and
poultry, than at the possibility that they themselves might have
been tricked into eating an animal who once ate a human.
Some, shocked that a farmer whose whole life was raising
animals for slaughter killed people too, have offered in defense of
Pickton that most of his alleged victims were prostitutes and drug
addicts, likening his serial killing to the routine agricultural
destruction of predators and crop-raiding nuisance wildlife.
In a backward sort of way, that is just the point: raising
animals for meat is all about killing. As PETA puts it, “Meat is
Relatively few farmers progress to homicide, but the
distance from killing pigs, coyotes, deer, raccoons, and so
forth to killing humans is markedly less than the distance to murder
from not killing anyone.
Michael Bruce Ross was a latter-day John-boy, superficially
straight out of The Waltons, helping to maintain “green space” on
the edge of suburbs full of sprawling lawns and shade trees. Even
his victims were all young women of sterling repute.
None of the fictional Walton children ever slowly choked the
life out of humans, well-reputed or otherwise–but they all had
dreams and ambitions taking them far from the farm. That was perhaps
the most realistic part of an otherwise grossly idealized depiction
of rural living: no one on The Waltons pretended that raising and
killing animals was the best way to spend a human lifetime.
Stuart Alexander was a small-time entrepreneur, another
occupational definition with a positive public image and many
apologists. Purportedly Alexander was driven to murder by
bureaucratic harassment–the sort that prevents Americans from dying
of meat-carried parasitic diseases at anything close to the rates
prevailing in much of the rest of the world.
Lisa Montgomery was a housewife who raised puppies, said to
have gone mad from depression after a miscarriage. Only sympathy for
her victims seems to restrain her apologists.
And then there are the hunters and trappers: Chai Soua Vang,
the immigrant whose Americanization included a metamorphosis from
Hmong hill dweller to truck-driving redneck; Mark Scott-Crossley,
leading the Great White Hunter lifestyle glorified even in
essentially pro-animal films such as Born Free; and Claude Dallas,
the anti-establishment country-wester song hero, whose female
courtroom coterie were called the “Dallas Cheerleaders.”
People who admire the images these alleged and convicted
murderers exemplified do not like to think of themselves as serial
killers, rage-killers, or the sort of person who might throttle and
hack open a mother-to-be.
Even more, most people do not like to imagine that they are
in any way accomplices to such actions by eating meat and eggs, or
hunting and fishing, or wearing fur.
In rebuttal to any suggestion that institutionalized cruelty
to animals may be a precursor to murder and other forms of violent
crime, many will argue that tens of thousands more people exploit
and harm animals in routine commerce and recreation than ever engage
in any kind of illegal violence.
That misses the point. The point is that all forms of
cruelty, regardless of legality and regardless of the species of the
victim, contribute to expanding the universe of suffering. All
forms of distancing and denial allow the cruelty to continue,
afflicting ever more victims and drawing in more participants.
Just a tiny minority of the participants ever choose to
inflict cruelty with sadistic intent, but for those who do, work in
agribusiness, slaughtering, or vivisection may provide cover for
indulgence. Some eventually seek a further rush through torturing
and killing humans. Only then do their acts burst the pretense that
their sadism is anything else.
Yet, like a “puncture-proof” tire that reseals itself after
a leak, the human capacity for distancing and denial allows society
to expel and punish murderers without having to acknowledge that they
are the ultimate products of layer upon layer of acculturation to
killing animals without a twinge of conscience.