My grandpa, a retired homicide detective, just told me about the only serial killer he ever pursued
As always, my grandpa and I read the comments on these posts together. He absolutely loves hearing what you all have to say. He loves your theories, he very much appreciates your well wishes, but he rebuffs the claims that he is an exceptionally brave man worthy of commendation.
“Eh…I just did what the job required. The brave ones are the ones who were more…affected…by the Impossible Ones…those guys and gals who are still around today even though the cases took a part of them…a bigger part than they ever took from me. They’re the ones who should be getting the praise. The partners I had over the years who were never the same after one of those cases hit our desks. Tell them I appreciate it, but they would all do the same things I did in those situations. For whatever reason, I was just lucky enough to not be in the direct line of fire when a case like those took one of us down with them. Just luck, that’s all.”
Alright, I got one for you. In my whole career, I only ever dealt with one serial killer. You know, not that we were hoping there’d be a serial killer on the loose, of course not, it’s just…those are the cases that make careers. This was about two years before I was planning to retire, so…what, ‘99, 2000? Somewhere around there. If I could bag a serial killer, it would be the cherry on top of my whole career.
I should’ve known right from the jump it was gonna be an Impossible case, but…well, I don’t know…hope and the benefit of hindsight, I suppose.
In the department, just amongst ourselves, we called this sick son of a bitch the Backwards Man. Ah…hey now, we never claimed to be creative types. We called him that because we caught him on camera a few times, a bunch of times, actually. He’d approach his victims, but he’d walk up to them…backwards. He’d stand with his back to them, and he’d talk to them.
He always wore the same thing: a long black coat with a big hood pulled up over his head. Winter, summer, didn’t matter, always wore the same thing, always walked backwards.
Now, if you’re walking down the street and you see someone walking backwards towards you, what are you gonna do? You’re gonna get outta the way of the weird son of a bitch, right?. Uh uh. Not with this guy. He’d walk up to these people and they’d stop, they’d talk to him, talk to the back of his head. After they’d talk for a bit, 20, 30 seconds, he’d take off in the opposite direction, and they’d follow him.
We tried following him on the cameras, and this is where it gets real weird. Downtown, you know, they have all kinds of cameras on the streets.
There was one, middle of the day he took someone. We got the footage from six different cameras. He walked up to this guy, guy talked to the back of his head for a minute, and they started walking. Now, you’re thinking that if he walks up to them backwards, then starts going in the other direction without turning around, he’s just walking normally, right?
Well, on all of the cameras, his back was to it. Camera was facing east on Juneau, his back was to it. Camera was facing west on Juneau, his back was to it, walking backwards. Camera was facing north on Water Street, his back was to the camera. Sounds like it doesn’t make sense, right? If he was walking east on Juneau and you’re looking at him from the south, you’d be looking at him in a profile, right? No, sir. His back was to the camera, and he was walking sideways, crossing his feet one over the other.
Didn’t make a single shred of sense. All the cameras had the same timestamps, but we were watching this guy walk in distinctly different gaits at the same time. Once they turned enough corners, they’d just disappear. We’d always check the nearby buildings, but there would never be any evidence of them having been there. We would eventually find the victims, but I’ll get to that.
Anyways, because of the whole camera thing, we obviously never saw his face, not once. Chased this guy for two years, interviewed…I mean, hundreds of folks who were in the areas this son of a bitch would take his victims. They all said the same things: “I only saw his back, his back was always to me, I just thought he was a weird guy walking backwards down the street.” No one we talked to ever saw his face.
Except for one lady.
We’d sent some uni’s out canvassing after the Backwards Man had taken a 13-year-old girl with him in the Third Ward. They went door to door to a few apartment buildings, and there was one lady, she was in her 40’s, name was…ah, what was it…Kathryn something…ah, it doesn’t matter.
So about a week after this girl had gone missing, we go to meet this woman, this Kathryn, and…it’s hard to describe, but it was like she was ripped off the page of one magazine and pasted onto another. Her apartment was immaculate. The Third Ward isn’t a cheap place to live, you know that. She had big fancy bookcases, big TV, pristine furniture; she was a lawyer, judging by the apartment and the pictures she happened to be in that were around her house, she was a real professional type.
But the woman herself, she was…she’d seen better days.
In those pictures she was an attractive woman; she was dressed sharp, hair was nice, big, sparkly white smile. When we talked to her, she looked like she hadn’t seen a shower in weeks. Her hair was all messed up, her teeth were dirty, she was just…she was a mess.
And she was afraid.
She sat in a chair in the corner and watched the door while we talked. She was…she was shaking like a leaf. We sat down to talk to her, you know, asked her what she’d seen. Her voice was all shaky, and she whispered, like there was someone in the room she didn’t want to hear what she was saying. Now, I’m paraphrasing here, but…
“He walked up backwards to the girl…I watched him do it, he–he walked up backwards to her, and just stood there. I, um, I wasn’t too close to them” you know, she was stuttering, you could tell she was terrified. She goes, “But I could see the girl talking to the person. I was wa–walking back to my office and I walked a bit closer and as I walked by I threw my coffee in the trash beside them and—and he was just saying something over and over and over, the same thing, and she was talking to him like they were having a conversation.”
I ask her what he was saying, and she just starts hyperventilating, you know, freaking out. Takes us a good 10 minutes to calm her down, but we need to know, you know? We have to know what this guy was saying.
She goes, “He was saying…’Is a house really a home if you aren’t there?’ and he’d sniffle a little bit like…like he was sick…then ‘is a house really a home if you aren’t there?’ and another sniffle, ‘is a house really a home if you aren’t there?’ and a sniffle. And then…”
She started crying real hard, had to give her a minute to calm down again. Then she says, “Then I realized that it was a perfect copy every time. Like it was on repeat on a recorder or something. It did something to me, hearing that. I thought I was gonna drop dead right there, I don’t know what it was but I thought I was gonna die.”
Then I ask what the girl was saying.
“She was…it’s like she was hearing something different than I was. She was just going on, ‘oh yeah, me too! I love it there. Oh yeah, what about you? That’s great!’ It didn’t make any sense.”
Then I kinda got down close next to her, as comforting as I could be, and I asked her again. Did she see his face?
Her eyes well up with tears again, her hands start shaking, I can tell she’s just about to break down again. Then she whispers, “His face…his face…his face…” then she starts yelling. “His face! His face!”
We try to calm her down but then she just stops, goes dead silent for a second, stares off into nothingness, then it’s like she composed herself in the blink of an eye and she goes, “Will you excuse me? I need to use the restroom.”
Before I tell her to go I ask her again if she can tell me what the guy’s face looked like. She’s cool as a cucumber now, and she just says, “If you’ll give me a moment, I’ll collect myself and be right back with you. I’m very sorry, I just…I just need to calm down for a second.”
I didn’t really know what else to say. I mean, her change in demeanor was…it was jarring, kinda left me and my partner stunned. And I couldn’t tell her ‘no’, you know? It was her house, she had every right to get up and go, and she did. My partner and I just kinda stood there and talked for a minute, kinda going over what the lady had said.
When she’d gone to the bathroom and closed the door, we’d walked over nearby just to keep an ear on her. She seemed unstable, but not to the point that we thought she’d try to harm herself. As I’m telling you this, I realize what it must sound like, like this woman was on the edge, and we just let her go to the bathroom, but I…she was afraid, and it just seemed like shock. In that line of work, you have to be able to read people. Well we were reading her, and neither of us felt she was at risk.
The water had been running, and we’d heard a creak, you know, like she’d sat down on top of the toilet or leaned against the counter, something, but that was it. No crying, didn’t sound like she was moving around at all. I knocked on the door, and we didn’t get a response. Knocked again, but in a hurry. When she didn’t answer, I tried to open the door, but she’d locked it, so I busted the handle.
She’d taken the blades out of one of those single-use razors; there were two blades. I know what you’re thinking. She tried to slash her wrists, right?
She’d cut out her tongue.
There was blood everywhere. All over the sink, the floor, the mirror, on top of the toilet. The tongue itself was sitting on the counter next to the sink, right next to the cup that had her toothbrush in it.
Kathryn, she–I think her name was Kathryn, that’s gonna drive me crazy. But she–she was sitting on the edge of the bathtub, totally silent, still as calm as she had been when she’d gotten up to go in there. Every few seconds she’d spit out a mouthful of blood into the tub, it was horrifying.
My partner called for medical, and I did what I could to help plug up the bleeding, which wasn’t much.
Oh, and on the shower wall, she’d written in her own blood the words “HIS FACE”, which…I don’t know what that was supposed to mean, still today don’t know what it meant. It wasn’t an indicator of what it had looked like or anything, just…I don’t know.
She, uh…she ended up in the hospital, of course, then was remanded to a psych facility for a few days. I remember my partner at the time, he looked her up a few years after I was out, and, uh…she had…she was living with her sister, and by that time she’d been arrested, uh, twice, for…for heroin possession. Her life really fell apart after that.
That…[My grandpa was thinking for a moment, and had a look of remorse on his face]
So, ahem, anyways. So that was odd enough, the whole thing with the guy walking backwards, whatever his face looked like, the weird things he was saying. But that wasn’t it.
So he’d take these people, we’d follow them on cameras when we could, but eventually we’d lose them. Sometimes the victims, they’d be missing for days, sometimes weeks. The longest any of them was missing was a guy, about your age [I’m 30], he was missing for about six weeks. But they’d always turn up. And they’d always turn up in the same way.
There’d be a call placed to 9-1-1, and the call would always essentially sound the same.
“We just got home, and there’s a dead body in our house.”
So there were, uh…there were seven. Seven of these murders, you know, that we know about. Three had already happened by the time I got put on the case; the lead before me hit his 20 and left the force. So I dealt with four of these.
The girl from the Third Ward, she’d been missing for uh…what was it…two days shy of a month. Towards the end of August, she showed up like all the others did. They were always in surrounding areas, never anywhere near where they’d gone missing.
This poor couple, they…the wife had come home from work about two minutes before her husband, and she’d walked in the house to find this 13-year-old girl’s body propped up in a reclining chair in the living room.
This girl’s body…she’d been frozen, and when the uni’s got there, maybe 10 minutes after the call was made, she was still ice cold to the touch, like she’d just been dropped there right before the wife had gotten in…had just barely started thawing. Her skin was black, like…she had the worst kind of frostbite over every inch of her body. There was dried blood coming from her nose, ears, eyes, you could barely see it, but it was there.
She had one leg over the other, and she had one hand held up, and the son of a bitch had put an empty champagne glass in it. But the worst part…her face. This was a pretty girl, or she had been…but, uh…well her face was solid black, but she was…ah, shit. She was smiling. Lips curled up, toasting like she was celebrating something. It was…that was the worst part about it, to me at least.
The other ones were…they were different but equally as twisted. One of them was the guy I mentioned earlier, on Juneau, he was found at a house in Brookfield, burnt to a crisp. And he was still smoldering, too, like he’d just been put there the second before the people got home. He was posed too; he was in their rec room, and he’d been set up like he was tossing a dart at their dart board.
And uh…then one day…they just stopped. It just never happened again.
The only thing related to the Backwards Man that happened after that last murder was…well I shouldn’t say the “only” thing, I don’t want to diminish it. It was…very unfortunate, what happened. I should say that the last thing related to the Backwards Man that I dealt with, and as far as I know the last thing to happen with him in [Our City], was…this poor girl.
She was in her early-mid 20’s, going to graduate school. She had just had a baby maybe six months before, and…she’d been walking from the [Local College] campus to the parking garage, and somewhere between those two, he’d shown up. Whole thing was caught on the security cameras, and again, no matter the angle, his back was always to the camera.
They talked for a minute, and this time, he turned around, her faced her. We couldn’t see it, because, you know, whatever the hell happens with the cameras. They talked for just a second after that, but instead of her following him, he just left. Just walked away.
She stood there for about 10 minutes, still as a statue, just looking into the distance, kind of a thousand-yard stare. She eventually went back to her car, stopped at the store, picked up diapers, started cooking dinner for her husband and son. While whatever they were having for dinner was cooking, she sat down at their kitchen table, wrote something down on a piece of paper, folded it over once, and set it down on one of the end tables next to their couch.
Then she went into her closet and hung herself from one of the bars. Her husband had been playing with their son and hadn’t noticed her put the piece of paper down; he…the smoke alarm went off, and he went looking for her, found her in the closet.
The note just said “HIS FACE” as many times as she could fit on the piece of paper.
My grandpa was drained after this one. Reading these transcriptions is one thing, but when I sit down with him and he tells me these verbally for me to record and transcribe, it’s apparent how all these cases affected him emotionally. And keep in mind, these are just the Impossible Ones. Besides those, he still has nearly three decades worth of normal, explainable cases weighing on him.
My grandpa then said something despite his clear exhaustion from the memory of this one, and even after my insistence that he is under no obligation to share any of this with me if he doesn’t want to.
“Let’s make that call, get you on the line with my pal in Arizona, I know he’s got a story or two that’ll really kick your ass.”
Categories: Nick Botic Original Series