Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Ethel Kitching
English 201
Essay 3
December 2003

Clowns and Corpses

I was stabbed last night. I was running—trying to get away. It was so dark. I couldn’t see where I was going. I pushed my way through the trees. I heard him behind me, branches snapping as he got closer. I knew I shouldn’t but something forced me to look back. It was so dark. The trees loomed over me and then I saw the knife. It was waving back and forth and getting closer. I started running. A branch hit my face. I ran faster and then I felt something touch my back. A sharp pain. Oh, God. I’m going to die. (Dream Journal Entry 10-29-03)

I must have screamed because my husband was wide awake, staring at me. "What?" He asked. "What’s wrong?" I told him about my dream and then I asked him to make sure the doors were locked. "Quit watching the television. It makes you crazy." Maybe he’s right. Eyewitness News on channel 7 seems to thrive on the Green River Killer stories. "Murder was [Gary] Ridgway’s Career." "Green River Suspect’s Hideout Revealed." "New Victims, New Questions" (Eyewitness News). Could the news be causing my nightmares? I’m sure my husband is right. The things we’re exposed to during our waking hours must affect our dreams. But, do our dreams affect our actions during the day? Could my nightmares be driving me crazy?

As I walk down the street, I playfully kick the maple leaves that have fallen. They smell so good. Funny, how something that is decomposing smells good. I hear children behind me. Trick or treaters. They are talking real fast. I can’t understand what they’re saying. They hurry towards me. I see a ghost, a witch, a pumpkin costume, a mummy, a nun. A nun? I counted five kids but all of a sudden I am surrounded by dozens of them—all wearing bizarre costumes. Their voices are getting louder. "Candy! Candy! Candy!" they shout. They are shoving bags at me. I look at their faces. These aren’t kids. They’re adults. Midgets! Furious midgets! They start pushing on me, shoving me, squishing me. They want to kill me. I can’t breathe. (Dream Journal Entry 10-30-03)

Halloween is just a day away. I loved Halloween when I was a kid. I spent weeks planning my costume. I would oversee every detail as my mother carefully sewed my costume. Although the goal was to bring home lots of candy, it was the anticipation of being scared that I lived for. We would hide from the teenagers that drove around "egging" kids. The occasional homeowner would plan a scary surprise for anyone that dared knock on their door. One man actually had a casket in his yard with a "bloody body." As we walked by a hand reached out at us. Boy, did we scream! It was fun to be scared. We knew the bodies weren’t real. Maybe, that’s why I didn’t have nightmares back then. The nightmares didn’t start until later—much later.

It still freaks me out remembering the first time I realized that someone could be murdered. Someone I know. In January 1979, our community was shook up by the news that the notorious Hillside Strangler had been caught here in Bellingham. The bodies of two Western Washington University students had been found in a cul-de-sac in the Fairhaven area. The local newspaper showed recent photos of the victims. Karen Mandic and Diane Wilder were smiling in the photographs. If only they’d known what was about to happen to them. "Karen Mandic was a beautiful student with long, blonde hair. She had last been seen alive . . . as she left the Fred Meyer department store where she worked" (Knudsen).

Being the typical college student, Karen Mandic had jumped at the chance to make a little extra money.

A man who had recently asked her for a date had offered her a house-sitting job

. . . $100 an hour. His name was Kenneth Alessio Bianchi. After leaving Los Angeles, Bianchi moved to Bellingham. For a while, he worked at the Fred [Meyer] store before taking employment as a security officer with Whatcom Security Agency. Karen’s boyfriend Steve Hardwick was suspicious from the outset. Karen, insisting that everything was okay, explained that a doctor owned the house, that it was an upper-class area of Bellingham, and the reason she had been offered the job was because the alarm wasn’t working. Karen added, "It’s easy money, for heavens sake. Look, Ken works for WSA. It’s a highly respected company, everyone knows that" (Knudsen).

The bodies of Karen Mandic and Diane Wilder were found in Karen’s Mercury Bobcat car. They had been raped and strangled. Bellingham Police officer Robert D. Knudsen state that "When I looked into the car, I could see that there were two fully clothed bodies. They had been dumped on top of one another like sacks of potatoes." Knudsen explained that when he noticed the floor mat had been recently removed and that there were no purses, or other ID, he "realized that the killer had done this sort of job before!"

Everyone I knew was talking about the murders. People were shocked that Kenneth Bianchi, a local security guard, was the infamous Hillside Strangler. What shocked me was that this happened to someone I might have spoken too—maybe even touched. I shopped at Fred Meyer all the time. Maybe, I’d met Karen Mandic? Maybe, I’d bumped into Kenneth Bianchi as I walked through the store?

I could hear a noise outside the house. I should have woke Dad up but I thought I’d take a look first. When I went into the living room, I was blinded by an intense light. The light shining in through the big window was eerie. Maybe, it was a search light. Red splats of light began flickering on the wall. A strobe light? It must be the police. I opened the door and there was a uniformed officer standing in the yard. I went outside to ask him what was going on. He was handsome. He looked like Kenneth Bianchi. I saw his badge—so shiny. Before I could say anything he grabbed me. I tried to scream. "Help! Daddy, help me!" Why did I close the door behind me? I felt the hands tighten around me neck. No! This can’t be happening! He’s killing me. (Dream Journal Entry, Date unknown)

I’m not sure why, but I remember driving to Bellingham. I drove past Fairhaven Park and turned onto Willow Road. I wanted to see where they were murdered. Maybe, seeing the actual spot would help me believe that it really happened.

I was almost twenty but my parents were still very protective of me and my younger sister. "There are psychos out there just looking for young girls like you" my mom would say. One night I had to walk home by myself. The county roads had very little traffic on them in those days. I remember walking down the road about a mile from home. It was getting late and the sun had set. I couldn’t see much in front of me. The ditches on each side of the road were deep, and dark. I was scared. What if there was some psycho waiting in the ditch at the side of the road? I was afraid to move. I didn’t know what to do. I decided to walk down the middle of the road. If someone was waiting for me, he’d have to come across half of the road just to get to me. Then I started running, as fast as I could, to get home and be with my mother. The Hillside Strangler had affected us all.

It’s been over twenty years since Kenneth Bianchi was hauled away to prison, but my nightmares continue. The Hillside Strangler was like a real-life version of Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. He planted ideas in my brain that I can’t escape from. Fear!

 

I was walking down the street when I heard the ice cream truck coming. The loudspeaker was playing some tune over and over again. It sounded like carnival music. Little kids brushed past me to get to the truck. They wanted their ice cream. Balloons blew past me. The long strings danced about. Suddenly, there were so many balloons around me that I could only see blotches of color. I heard a loud pop and saw a red balloon disappear. Something red splattered everywhere. Blood? I’ve got to get out of here! I push past the balloons and bump into something firm. A man’s chest. He’s wearing a garish shirt. No, it’s a clown costume. I look up, way up, to see his face. Oh my God, it’s Pennywise! How did he get here? He’s supposed to be in a movie. It. He can’t be real! He leans closer to me and the paint on his face looks sticky. Pennywise smiles and something drips from his rotten teeth. He laughs as he lets go of a bunch of balloons and reaches for me. Damn you, Stephen King. Your clown wants to kill me. I try to get away but the balloons trap me. Pennywise laughs again. I see his long fingernails. Pop . . . Pop . . . Pop . . . (Dream Journal Entry 10-31-03)

My husband is frustrated with my dreams. Maybe, he’s just tired of being woken up in the wee hours of the morning. "They’re not real, "He says. "You have to stop letting things bother you. Think happy thoughts." He’s suggested that I see a doctor to help me "sleep better". Does he think I’m a little crazy? In a recent issue of Psychology Today, Willow Lawson discusses nightmares. She believes that the majority of people with regular nightmares have post-traumatic stress disorder. Lawson quotes Doctor Barry Krakow, medical director for the Center for Sleep Medicine and Nightmare Treatment. Krakow states, "Nightmares are so confusing to people. They think it is their psyche screaming out, but that’s only part of the story." Hmmm, is my psyche screaming out? There is more to my story.

My husband and I married in June 1981. This should have been the happiest time of my life, and for the most part it was, except for one thing. It was also the month that Rodney Crenshaw’s trial began. Crenshaw was accused of murdering his brand-new bride in a motel room in Blaine, my hometown. While I was busy decorating the church for my wedding ceremony, helicopters hovered above. The news media had swarmed our town because of the horrific murder trial. State of Washington court documents describe the gruesome murder.

Rodney Crenshaw and his wife Karen were on their honeymoon in Canada. He was deported as a result of his participation in a brawl. He secured a motel room in Blaine and waited for his wife to join him. When she arrived two days later he immediately thought she had been unfaithful. He beat her unconscious. He then went to a nearby store, stole a knife, and returned to stab his wife 24 times. He left again, drove to a nearby farm . . . and borrowed an ax. Upon returning to the motel room, he decapitated his wife with such force that the ax marks cut into the concrete floor under the carpet and splattered blood throughout the [motel] room. (State v. Crenshaw).

 

I tried my wedding dress on. It fit perfect. There were so many layers of satin and lace that I had to wear a special slip with attached hoops to hold the dress in place. It might have been a hassle but I loved that dress. I thought I looked like a princess. I turned around and around, admiring myself in the tall mirror. Something caught my eye. I turned and saw an axe raised into the air. No! My sweetheart is trying to kill me? We’re going to get married. I’m supposed to marry this person—but this isn’t my fiancÚ. This isn’t Gary. What’s going on? Where is Gary? The axe swings and misses. Thud. The axe is raised again. He just misses my face. I can’t move. Why is this happening? Thud. (Dream Journal Entry – Date unknown)

I thought my own honeymoon would be an escape from the horrible trial. I wanted to think "happy thoughts" as my husband always suggested. We decided to drive to the so-called "happiest place in the world"—Disneyland. I expected the first night of our honeymoon to be magical. We were so much in love and we had reservations at a fancy hotel. What could possibly go wrong? More nightmares? Actually, it was just the opposite. I couldn’t sleep! I stayed awake all night looking around the room. What if someone had been murdered in this room? Had blood ever splattered on these walls? I was scared. I was afraid of what might have happened. I was afraid of what could happen . . .

Some of our friends questioned why we were driving to California. "It’s so much quicker to just fly down," they would say. I had flown just once before. Every year, the City of Blaine holds the Sky-Water Festival. The airport would often offer penny-a-pound rides during the festival. I was so excited about getting to fly in a real airplane. We climbed into a Cessna that was occasionally used by Blaine police officers. I can still remember how tiny the Peace Arch appeared when I looked down on it. I laughed at the buildings and cars. They looked like toy models. If I’d only known that that plane was about to make its last flight.

According to court documents, Rodney Crenshaw had "performed the murder methodically, leaving the motel room twice to acquire the knife and ax necessary to perform the deed. Then, after the killing he scrubbed the motel room to clean up the blood and remove the fingerprints." (State v. Crenshaw). I remember being told that he had wrapped his wife’s dismembered body up in the motel room sheets. He then drove to Lynden to dispose of the body.

A motel room maid entered the room to perform her routine cleaning duties. They say that her scream was heard throughout town. No amount of cleaning could disguise the traces of murder left in the room. Some people said that the walls were gouged with pieces of skin and dried blood in them. Rodney Crenshaw was immediately located and arrested. He admitted that he had dumped his wife’s body in a ditch in the Lynden area. He couldn’t name the road it was near. The Blaine Police decided to fly over the area with the Cessna. Hopefully, they could locate the body quicker with an overhead view. For some reason, the plane crashed in a field near Lynden, killing both police officers on board. I knew these men and I liked them. I was shocked. I have not flown since, and that was over twenty years ago.

My husband Gary thinks I have a phobia about airplanes. I admit that I’ve had occasional nightmares with 747’s falling from the sky. I’ve explained to Gary, and other doubters, that it’s just common sense. Planes crash—so I don’t get on them. Once in awhile, I do wonder if my dreams have influenced my travels. Or, more aptly, my lack of travels. "Unlike most normal dreams, nightmares don’t appear to help a person work through events in their daily lives. For some . . . bad dreams linger and become destructive" (Lawson).

Ross Levin, Ph.D. is a therapist and professor at Yeshiva University in New York City. Levin treats patients with nightmare disorders and insomnia. He states in Psychology Today that "People [that suffer from nightmares] are unusually open with others and can be emotionally vulnerable." He adds that "nightmare sufferers are more inward looking than the average person and prone to vivid fantasies. Their thoughts and day-dreams are often negative" (Lawson). I agree with Dr. Levin that nightmare sufferers are probably more open and vulnerable. I definitely am more open than most people I know. I like people and I want to share my thoughts and feelings with them. I’m also vulnerable. I cry at the most ridiculous times. It’s embarrassing. People say I’m jumpy. They’re right; the littlest thing will scare me. It’s no wonder I have nightmares after watching the killer clown in It or Freddy Krueger in any of the A Nightmare on Elm Street films.

I’ve been thinking about Levin’s idea that nightmare sufferers are negative people during the daytime. He seems to echo my husband’s comments. Are my thoughts and daydreams negative? Do my nightmares impact my daily life? I admit they do. I avoid hotels that resemble the one I know all too well in Blaine. I am afraid of airplanes and . . . I hate clowns.

As horrible as they are, my nightmares may be a blessing in disguise. They have made me think about life from a different perspective. My experiences, and my bad dreams, have made me realize that life is very precious. I know I’ll have nightmares again and I’m not looking forward to that but in the meantime I will continue to think "happy thoughts". By the way, I just signed up for an Alaska Airlines card. You just might see me heading for the airport again someday. Who knows?

Works Cited

A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Dir. Renny Harlin. Perf. Robert Englund. Videocassette. New Line Cinema, 1988.

"Eyewitness News." Kiro TV. Dir. Helen Swensen. CBS. 7-10 Nov. 203.

It. Dir. Tommy Lee Wallace. Perf. Tim Curry, Richard Thomas, John Ritter. Videocassette. Warner Home Video, 1990.

Knudsen, Robert D. "Infamous Scenes—of Crimes Revisited." The New Criminologist. Vol. 1, 2002
http://www.thecriminologist.com/new_criminologist/volume1/crimes_revisited.htm

Lawson, Willow. "Nocturnal perdition." Psychology Today. Aug 2003:11. Academic Search Elite. EBSCO-HOST. Whatcom Community College. 12 Nov. 2003.

"The State of Washington, Respondent, v. Rodney K. Crenshaw, Petioner." United States Supreme Court. 18 Feb. 1983. Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington. 12 Nov. 2003. Http://mrsc.org/mc/courts/supreme/098wn2d0789.htm

 

Copyright 2003
Ethel Kitching

 

Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA
1999-2015