by Terrance Mc Arthur
This week we have something a bit different, a review of a true crime book by Patrick Kendrick. Halloween season seemed like a perfect time for such a book. We also have an interesting interview with Patrick. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a signed copy of the book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
American Ripper By Patrick Kendrick
Review by Terrance McArthur
The 1970s was a Golden Age of serial killers. Manson, Zodiac, Son of Sam, Gacy, Bundy, Schaefer. Schaefer?
In 1973, a Florida jury convicted Gerard John Schaefer of two counts of murder in the first degree. He insisted on his innocence, yet he named missing person cases and unsolved murders that should have been added to the list of twenty-eight deaths where he was suspected. On top of that, Schaefer was a law enforcement officer.
How do you explain a man like that? Patrick Kendrick tried to figure this out for many years. It nearly ruined his life. Finally, the pieces come together in American Ripper. This non-fiction, true-crime epic follows Schaefer from his birth in Wisconsin to his days in Florida. He claimed to be a hunting/fishing guide, tried to become a teacher (but was removed from student teaching), married repeatedly, worked for several police departments, and then…
Schaefer picked up two female hitchhikers and took them home. The next day, in plainclothes he said, he’d take them to the beach. Instead, he took them to a remote location, handcuffed them, tied them, and perched one standing on a tree root with a noose around her neck. The girls escaped, and Schaefer was tried for his actions. While he waited to serve his jail time, he struck again.
Georgia Jessup and Susan Place were teens when “Jerry Shepherd” took them for a ride on September 27, 1972. On April 1, 1973, the skeletal remains of the girls were found, dismembered and beheaded. “Jerry Shepherd” was identified as Schaefer.
It’s a story of a disturbed man who did disturbing things. Schaefer wrote stories that minutely described how to torture, kill, and violate women, and how to dispose of bodies in the Florida swamplands. He claimed he killed no one, and tried to shift blame to district attorneys, lawyers, parents of the victims, and everyone, but himself. He tangled up the writing of this book with lawsuits that caused Kendrick to stop work on it for decades. There are pages and pages of psychiatric evaluations, interview transcripts, trial records, letters, writing samples, and more in over 550 pages of text. It’s horrifying, revolting, and riveting.
As a picture of the depths to which a human can sink, American Ripper is like Picture of Dorian Gray—the longer it goes, the worse it looks.
Interview with Patrick Kendrick:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Patrick: While I hate to admit it, I’ve been writing for over 40 years! I had a wonderful high school English teacher, who I also had a crush on, and she gave the class an assignment to write a short story of about five pages. My short story was 33 pages long and it was a murder mystery with rather adult themes, but my teacher loved it so much she read the entire story in front of the class. I was mortified, but the class loved it and Miss Windisch (real name!) encouraged me to keep writing.
KRL: When did your first book come out?
Patrick: My first published book, Papa’s Problem, was published in 2008 but I had published short stories and articles since I was in my 20’s.
KRL: Would you tell us a little about it?
Patrick: Papa’s Problem was set in 1939 in Key West, Florida when Hemingway lived there. He is a suspect in the murder of a Cuban prostitute. I knew much of the lore of Key West and Hemingway because I had a house down there for a while. A small publisher took a chance on the book and it won our first Florida Book Award.
KRL: Have you always written true crime and if not, what else have you written?
Patrick: Not in book form, though I worked as a freelance journalist for several years and wrote about some true crime, including an article on Gerard Schaefer, the serial killer.
Most of my books are thrillers more than mysteries. Papa’s Problem was the first, then Extended Family, published by Thomas & Mercer, is a book about the progeny of a serial killer and the exponential spread of their offspring.
Acoustic Shadows was about a school shooting that is actually a cover up for another crime and was published by HarperCollins UK. The Savants is a sci-fi driven thriller and my first young adult novel. It’s about a group of young people who must try to save the world from a cataclysmic disaster, and it won my second Florida Book Award. American Ripper is my newest book and my first non-fiction book.
KRL: What brought you to choose the topic of this current book?
Patrick: I knew of the case of Gerard Schaefer, a serial killer cop, from when I was a teenager. He lived in a nearby county where my then girlfriend had a beach house. One of the victims, Susan Place, looked very much like my girlfriend and I couldn’t get over that it could’ve just as easily been her that was murdered. It scared the heck out of me. Later, when I began to write articles for publications, I got my press credentials from Police Times Magazine and did a story about Schaefer for them, that lead me to meet the killer in prison. The antagonistic relationship he and I had that led to him suing me and threatening my family was nothing less than bizarre and nerve wracking.
KRL: Scary! What is your goal with this book?
Patrick: It was a case that most people don’t know about, though the killer was very much as active and perhaps even more sadistic than Ted Bundy, but most people don’t know who Schaefer was. I believe, because Schaefer was a cop and the authorities wanted to keep that angle down, he had a fast and inappropriate trial – that is, they didn’t use a grand jury for a capital crime, which allowed a quick, short trial.
Then, no other law enforcement agency pursued the other murders, including the FBI, though Schaefer’s murders crossed state lines. When asked why, they told me, “He’s already in jail, what’s the point?” The point is that there were parents of other victims that were never sure what happened to their missing loved ones. Now they do, and while the truth is disturbing, at least they know what happened and, perhaps, can finally move through their needed grieving.
KRL: Do you do an outline before you start writing or just figure it out as you get more information?
Patrick: I know where I want to go but I do not outline. In writer’s groups we call people who outline, Plotters, and people who write flying by the seat of their pants are Pantsers. I’m a Pantser, I’m afraid. That said, I had to do some outlining with Ripper as I wanted to tell the whole story but wanted to do it so that it reads more narratively. Some people say it reads like a fiction book. I often wish it were fiction.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Patrick: I used to, but the virus has changed that. My sons are home from school, and I am easily distracted. I used to start writing about 10 a.m. – I am not a morning person – and I would write until about 2-3 p.m.. Now, I write when I can and have taken a few months off after Ripper because it was an incredible amount of work.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Patrick: Mornings, then take a break for a workout and lunch, then get back to it later, when I am invigorated and able to look back over my morning work.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Patrick: Oh, yes. It took me years to get published. I had written two complete books, my first at 19 years old, and started many others but it was so difficult to get my foot in the door. Belonging to a group, such as Mystery Writers of America or International Thriller Writers and going to conferences and meetings helped.
KRL: Do you have a most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Patrick: After writing The Savants, my young adult book about teenagers with extraordinary intellect but zero social skills, I was invited to several schools and was part of the Author in Schools program in Florida. I like to bring “swag” like bookmarks or key chains, flashlights, etc. for people who want signed books. But I really messed up with The Savants. I thought it would be cool do give people Swiss knives, a tool that might be used by the young geniuses in my book, but as I sat down to sign books and hand out knives, a horrified teacher approached me and said, “OMG! You can’t give the kids knives!”
The students were devastated, and I was embarrassed but also instantly aware how much the world had changed since I was young person. I was a Cub Scout when I was a kid and we always had knives, to carve models, camp out, etc. Sadly, the world has changed to where we fear giving kids the responsibility that was commonplace when I was a child.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Patrick: I’ve been told I NEED to do a series! So, I am doing a sequel to my first book, Papa’s Problem, that picks up a year later in 1940. My protagonist, Emmet MacWain, is back and reluctantly agrees to take a case wherein he is hired by Henry Ford, to see who is sending him packages that purportedly contain the breath of Thomas Edison. It might sound far-fetched, but it is actually based on true events. Edison, in his death bed filled dozens of bottles of what he thought was his last breath to give to his friend, Henry Ford, hence the title, Edison’s Last Breath.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Patrick: Gone but not forgotten: John D. MacDonald. Robert E. Howard, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Still kicking it: Stephen King, Dennis Lehane, James Lee Burke, Ron Rash, William Kent Krueger, John Irving, Loren Estelman, Donna Tart, and recently, Delia Owen.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Patrick: EXTENSIVE! Some 35 years of it for American Ripper! I start with internet research, then travel to various cities and countries to look into archives, visit architecture, hear dialogue, and breathe the air of where my characters live. Then I take the road not taken and find places many people do not go, literally and figuratively.
KRL: What do you read?
Patrick: I bounce around. I just discovered William Kent Kruger and I loved Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing. I’ve read almost all of the books of those “writing heroes” I mentioned previously. I enjoy mysteries and thrillers, leaning toward those that are in the style of Southern Gothic, but occasionally I’ll read sci-fi, or horror.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Patrick: Typically, crime related: Peaky Blinders, Ozark-I think Jason Bateman does a great job with his character. Luther with Idris Elbais a superb show. I like Christopher Nolan’s work as a film director. I enjoy the rare but good comedy. Ashamedly, I’ll admit I enjoy “super-hero” movies, too!
KRL: Nothing to be ashamed of there 🙂 Anything you would like to add?
Patrick: I enjoy live theater, music, museums, and cannot wait until these venues open again. People need to get out, with caution of course, because if they don’t, we will lose all of these arts we’ve learned to enjoy.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Patrick: That I studied Fine Art in college. I lean toward sculpture but also paint, draw, and occasionally do print making. I lived in Italy working on my master’s degree, then left the art world to become a firefighter and later an author.
KRL: Website and social media?
KRL: Gerard John Schafer was a law enforcement officer, was convicted of two murders, and suspected of many others. how could he get into multiple departments with his mental problems?
Patrick: In the 1970s there was no internet. Records of schools and employment were available, even medical records were, but people just did not delve into them as much as they do now.
Additionally, Schaefer was like a chameleon and lied on his resumes. He even forged a letter of endorsement from the chief of the police department from which he was fired, and it was never questioned. His medical records of his deteriorating mental status were readily available then, too, and there was no HIPPA law to keep people from reading them, but they were ignored.
KRL: Schafer claimed innocence yet boasted of more bodies that would never be found. Was he a victim of injustice, a wannabe who only fantasized, or monster, or what?
Patrick: I can be very clear on this, he was a monster. His boast of other murders was always done in cheeky way and while he would not direct investigators to where to find the bodies, many of them have turned up over the years. Even then, no one pursued trying him for more murders, or even looking into them besides myself. Just before American Ripper was published this summer, I helped in a cold case investigation that is now solved and I still hear from families who want to know if he killed their daughters.
KRL: Schafer gave you information, but also threatened your life. How did your relationship with him develop?
Patrick: I was hired to do a story on him through Police Times Magazine and they gave the press credentials I needed to contact him and, eventually, meet him in prison. He was initially in a minimum-security prison and he could call me anytime he wanted to. He was getting more and more media attention and I believe people in power decided enough is enough and they reported he was trying to escape, so he was moved to a maximum-security prison, Florida State Prison, which is a really terrible place to be. That said, he deserved worse. He constantly asserted with various media he was this innocent cop who was wrongly accused, to flirting and suggesting he might also be the worse serial killer in American history.
I dislike characterizing him with this simplified Victorian word, but he was evil in every sense of that word. When he began sending letters to my house threatening my family and saying he had minions willing to do what he asked of them, it was all on for me. I tried everything possible to have him retried for other murders. I contacted the Governor, State and U.S. senators, State attorneys, literally everyone, to reopen his cases, try him again with a grand jury and euthanize him but I could not get any takers. The common answer was, he was in prison and no longer a threat.
It was a tough time for my wife and I and we’d only been married a year. She pleaded with me to stop work on the book even though I’d already been working on it for about 8 years. So, I did until these past few years when I began hearing from families again, asking about their missing daughters.
KRL: With today’s technology, could a Schafer happen today? If so, what changes need to be made? If not, how have changes made a difference?
Patrick: Oh, yes, there will always be another Schaefer. Serial Killers are adept at hiding and disguising their evil addictions and it is an addiction for them. They are out there now, and people need to always be aware of that. I can’t stress that enough. They remind me of Great White Sharks.
You may not ever encounter one but if you swim in the ocean enough where they are present, eventually you will. Statistically, there are more serial killers on this planet than there are Great White Sharks. SK’s are just better at hiding. Changes that need to be made are that all states who have been collecting DNA and M.O.’s (methods of operation) for years need to collate that information into a national data base and it needs to be constantly monitored or made automated to match those clues and sound an alarm to law enforcement agencies.
In addition, there should be a way for teachers who see aberrant behavior in children to have a way of reporting it to an agency that will investigate and make recommendations. The laws that exist now, do not allow that kind of profiling. It invades individual rights, but almost every killer whether mass, spree, or serial killers, were identified by someone as a possible threat long before they killed anyone. People know when a mad dog is foaming at the mouth.
To enter to win a signed copy of American Ripper, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “ripper,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 24, 2020. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT MAY TAKE LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
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