By Chris Roberts
By Joe Eskenazi
By Albert Samaha
By Mike Billings
By Rachel Swan
By Erin Sherbert
By Joe Eskenazi
By Albert Samaha
Loudamy has drawers full of missives from live-child buriers, torture-murderers, spree-shooters, and even an accused killer who allegedly ground his victims with pork.
Since 2001 Loudamy has devoted himself to writing letters to famed North American prison inmates, and he often receives letters back. By writing around 11 letters a day, Loudamy has amassed a collection of 400 letters from criminals ranging from Robert Pickton, the British Columbia pig farmer accused of killing two dozen prostitutes and blending their remains with pig meat, to incarcerated celebrities, such as Richard Hatch, the Survivor contestant convicted of tax evasion.
"I have some fairly historic cases, like Frederick Woods, who I guess in the early '70s buried a busfull of school children; Charles Ng; Richard Ramirez; Andy Williams it's kind of all over the board," Loudamy tells me during an interview, referring to the Chowchilla kidnapper, the sex-slave murderer, the necrophiliac "Night Stalker" serial killer, and the fellow who went on a San Diego County high school shooting spree in 2001.
"Charles Ng complains more than anyone else I've ever written to, and sent me a visitor's form to fill out in hopes of a face-to-face visit. Richard Ramirez mostly talks about his favorites movies, music, and books. He also wants to be sent photos of (Asian) women in various bondage poses. I got him to open up a little about his childhood-teen years while he was still living in Texas, and about him first coming to California," Loudamy wrote me in a follow-up e-mail. Andy Williams "spends most of his time trying out various college courses and says he has one of the best jobs in the prison ... Probably the most bizarre of all my pen pals is Robert Bardo. Sentenced for the stalking/killing of actress Rebecca Schaefer, he is obsessed with celebrities. He sends me page after page of names and city/states in an attempt to gain ways to contact celebrities. His biggest project at the moment is trying to contact Lindsay Lohan."
But If I'm to take Loudamy at his word, he's up to something different than mere ghoulish obsession. He's probing, then publicizing, the banal musings of the very worst criminal minds. Besides, anyone who's able to prove the link between Lindsay Lohan fandom and criminal pathology has my avid support.
Loudamy got his start writing letters to prisoners after reading news stories about the wrongfully convicted, and began writing to death row prisoners. He expanded to lifers, and to the merely notorious, receiving so many letters back that he began to think he had the material for a different kind of study of the North American criminal mind.
"Ultimately, with a book that's going to come out, I wanted to kind of take true-crime books in sort of a new direction and take the guesswork out of it," Loudamy told me. "True crime is usually done in a sort of clinical way about people: 'Here's why we think these people are the way they are.' What I wanted to present to people are those people's letters in their own words."
If book publishing is all about publicity, Loudamy is an accomplished author already.
Earlier this month readers in Canada became fascinated with letters Loudamy said he received from the British Columbia pig farmer on trial charged with killing 27 women and grinding up several of them along with pork.
Responding to letters Loudamy wrote under the pseudonym Mya, accused killer Robert Pickton wrote that he was innocent, and paraphrased Acts 14:22 saying it was necessary to "suffer many hard things to get into the holy nation of God."
Loudamy cites a battery of forensic tests done by Canadian journalists, including handwriting analysis, and examination of the prison-originated postal stamp on the envelopes, to assert the letter's authenticity. He couldn't tell me, however, the names of anyone connected with the actual inmates who might verify that the letters were real.
Given Loudamy's success in drawing out the thoughts of the wicked, I'd like to see him follow his exploration of the inner lives of leading wicked people in jail, with a similar voyage through the minds of flawed leaders in politics and business. While I wouldn't associate any of our local pols' shortfallings with those of a Robert Pickton, I wouldn't put it past our mayor, say, or perhaps Treasure Island development mastermind Ron Burkle, to respond to letters from a Mya Barnett, Loudamy's alter ego, who led a troubled if fictitious life, but was determined to survive.
"Some people send, like, artwork. Some people have sent me CDs and DVDs. There are all sorts of weird quirks that go along with receiving letters from notorious prisoners," Loudamy says.
I'd love to get a peek of marginalia emanating from our own politicos' inner space, even if it were merely a few pages of Lindsay Lohan-themed poems.
Some bizarre avocations, such as Loudamy's, deserve praise.
Others, such as the one practiced by attorney Mary Ann Miles, need to be discouraged at every opportunity.
Miles' chosen endeavor seems to involve plaguing environmental groups by turning the fine print of their own process rules against them.
Somebody, please, teach this woman to crochet, collect stamps, or send letters to convicts.
San Francisco barrister Miles has led reporters from vaunted journals such as the San Francisco Chronicleand the Christian Science Monitor to believe that a recent lawsuit she filed to halt the striping of bike lanes around the city was the tip of an anti-cyclist backlash that's roiling San Francisco.
Miles' suit claims the city's plan to create a network of bike lanes didn't undergo sufficient environmental review. A judge halted the city from painting more lanes until he decides during coming weeks whether bureaucrats should first conduct further studies on the issue.
Whatever the suit's outcome, it seems clear that Miles is not involved in a backlash beyond her own longtime activity of lashing out at environmental activists with complaints about bureaucratic process.
Miles' San Francisco street-striping suit shares elements with a bizarre family drama with roots in Mendocino County involving people, in one way or another, connected to the legendary liberal muckraking Anderson ValleyAdvertiser newspaper, based in Boonville.
In Mendocino County, Miles sued the Sierra Club and individual environmentalists for libel. Efforts by Miles to depose leaders of the Club's Mendocino/Lake group, and demand detailed records from this group, caused them to speculate, falsely according to a San Francisco court, that she was mentally ill.
"The Sierra Club branch I asked for the records from, wrote this letter, which they did not send to me, which was sent all over the place, saying a bunch of false and libelous things about me. And the outcome of the lawsuit at the trial level was that the jury unanimously reached a verdict that the letter was false," Miles told me.
Though Miles was defamed by the Mendocino environmentalists, an appeals court last year reaffirmed a San Francisco court's ruling that Miles could not receive damages for libel because she'd become something of a public figure in Mendocino County.
In issuing his ruling last year, Justice Timothy Reardon wrote a detailed description of a dispute centered around the Advertiser with the paper's former cartoonist, Miles, and Robert Anderson, brother of the paper's publisher Bruce Anderson, lined up on one side, and local environmental preservation groups on the other, much like Miles' current suit against San Francisco.
Here, Miles is suing the city for carrying out environmentalists' goals of encouraging bicycle transport.
In Medocino County, Miles began demanding extensive records of the local Sierra Club group, one of several confrontations that included an attempt to unseat the group's executive committee. Her libel lawsuit came after the Advertiser published a letter about these activities that referred to her, without evidence, as a crazy person.
In court filings in the bike-lanes suit, Miles claims that her plaintiff, Robert Anderson, represents various heretofore unheard of San Francisco civic groups.
In Mendocino County, Robert Anderson was Miles' friend and comrade at arms in confronting the area's environmentalists, writing newspaper editorials on her behalf, and feuding with his brother, Bruce, in defense of Miles' anti-environmentalist crusade.
"Only someone who knows the people and events you describe in your latest front-page [Advertiser] attempt to destroy Mary understands what a liar and cowardly prick you are," Robert Anderson said at the time of the dispute.
The Chronicle and the Monitor may have been half right to label Miles' bike-lane suit part of some sort of backlash.
The problem is, it's unclear to me why Miles and Anderson keep lashing out the way they do.
Miles, for her part, sees no similarity between the two situations. "These two actions are completely unrelated," Miles said in a letter to SF Weekly.
Long before Miles began her battles with Mendocino County environmental groups, she was a cartoonist for the Advertiser known for violent, sexual imagery-infused drawings that a judge, reviewing Miles' libel case, declared "quite disturbing."
Miles' friend Robert Anderson had performed various duties at the Advertiser, including writing articles and columns. The beginning of the end of these happy connections came when local Sierra Club member Roanne Withers came to believe Miles took a hostile stance against them because the group had failed to adopt her view that a compost dump near Miles' home should be closed.
Robert Anderson, for his part, wrote an Advertisercolumn suggesting the Sierra Club wasn't doing its job on the dump issue.
Bruce Anderson then invited Withers to write a response, in which, according to the court ruling, she characterized a conversation she had with Miles as "frightening." Bruce Anderson also wrote a column criticizing his brother Robert's column defending Miles. Salting the wound, Bruce Anderson additionally wrote a sidebar claiming Miles was hostile to the Sierra Club.
After the articles ran, Miles began examining the management of the local Sierra Club group, which generally consisted of a few older folks meeting in living rooms. Research completed, Miles took action. She complained that the group was not holding proper elections. She filed a formal grievance about the group's election procedures, demanding its executive committee be ousted. Failing that, Miles sent a letter to the Sierra Club's national office demanding to see the group's internal records.
Bruce Anderson wrote another column, denouncing Miles as someone bent on harassing environmentalists. And he wrote another column called "Crazy Mary Versus the Sierra Club," without offering factual reason to believe Miles was crazy.
For five years the lawsuit made its way through the courts, with Miles pursuing her contention that she wasn't a public figure all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately declined to hear her case.
Since the Mendocino imbroglio, many of its participants have migrated south.
Robert Anderson has been described in accounts of Miles' lawsuit as a San Francisco dishwasher. He's run for Supervisor. And he keeps a current events-oriented Web log.
Last year Bruce Anderson sold the Advertiser. Some accounts said he was tired of all the strife that had arisen around his newspaper. Bruce Anderson attempted for three months last year to launch a similar publication in Eugene. But it failed. Two of his friends told me he's in Marin County, living without e-mail as he considers his next move.
Roanne Withers said her attorney has told her to speak with nobody about Mary Miles.
I wish them all peace.
As for Miles, I can't see how one could ever find resolution pursuing an interest in tormenting environmentalists with their own bureaucratic fine print.