Sunday, December 6, 2020

10 Facts about the Missoula Mauler

 


Missoula, Montana is a college town. Three years ago, the city had a reported population of 73,340. At first glance, Missoula would seem like an idyllic place—the majestic backdrop of snow-capped mountains, the green grass, and the pleasant and healthy air of Big Sky country touching everything in the lungs. However, there is darkness in Missoula.

 

While Montana is one of the safest states in the entire US, with a crime rate slightly lower than the national average (374 crimes per 100,000 people), Missoula regularly posts a crime rate above both the state and national average. In 2018, Missoula’s crime rate was 448.18 per 100,000 residents [LINK 1]. The city has even been immortalized in print, with journalist Jon Krakauer’s award-winning book “Missoula” detailing a series of rapes on the city’s University of Montana campus [LINK 2].

 

During the 1970s and 1980s, Missoula was home to a serial killer, but until that killer’s demise, most people in Missoula had no idea that a serial predator was in their midst. Nicknamed the “Missoula Mauler,” Wayne Nathan Nance began killing as a teenager and did not stop until age thirty. He wasn’t caught, nor was he even convicted of his crimes. Rather, the Missoula Mauler died in one of the most unique circumstances in the history of serial murder.

 

10. Origin Story

 

Wayne Nance was born on October 18, 1955. Years later, as a teenager and as an adult, Wayne regularly told people that Halloween was his birthday. This fabrication was part of Wayne’s larger interest in the occult—an interest that may have drove him to kill.

 

The Nance family were working-class. They had multiple children (both boys and girls), lived in a trailer park just outside of Missoula, and both father George and mother Charlene worked in order to pay bills and feed and clothe their offspring. This domestic bliss did not last long. On December 14, 1968, George Nance held up the Super Save Store in Missoula at gun point. He tied up store manager Howard Brein and pistol whipped him for his troubles. George was apprehended after a short stand-off with police. 40-year-old George Nance was sentenced to five years in prison. Young Wayne was only 13-years-old [LINK 3]. Several years later, Charlene Nance would commit suicide after a particularly nasty argument with her ex-con husband.

 

As a youth, Wayne developed a reputation as an oddball. Something of a loner and a bully, Wayne was known to pick fights in school. Although an academically gifted pupil who other students knew to be an excellent artist, Wayne was best known as a serious student of the occult. Teenage Wayne was obsessed with witchcraft and Satanism, and told his peers that he belonged to a coven [LINK 4]. More shocking still was Wayne’s oft-repeated promise that he would kill someone before he turned nineteen.

 

9. Murder of Donna Pounds

 

Donna Pounds was the wife of an aspiring Christian preacher who believed sincerely in “fire and brimstone.” The religious Pounds family also believed that the widespread interest in the occult, which characterized 1970s America, was a sign of a rising tide of Satanism. 

 

On April 11, 1974, Donna Pounds was shot and killed by an unknown assailant inside the basement of her West Riverside home [LINK 5]. Police quickly learned that the murder weapon came from within the Pounds home. Specifically, Donna had been killed with her husband Harvey’s .22-caliber Luger pistol [LINK 6]. Other evidence included several rope ligatures on Donna’s bedposts.

 

Missoula County sheriff’s deputies immediately suspected Harvey Pounds. After all, local rumors claimed that Harvey, the fundamentalist minister, was having an affair. On top of that, only three people knew where Harvey kept his gun, including Harvey and his son Kenny. The third person was Kenny’s friend and neighbor, Wayne Nance.

 

Ultimately, neither Harvey nor Wayne were ever charged with the crime. Missoula police officers were split between those who favored Harvey and those who favored Wayne as the culprit. Even though Harvey seemingly had a motive for the murder, and even though Wayne openly bragged about being a suspect in the case and had been seen near the Pounds home by an eyewitness on the night in question, police came to the conclusion that they did not have enough physical evidence to bring either case to trial.

 

8. Brief Interlude

 

Current opinion says that Donna Pounds was murdered by Wayne Nance. Thus, the 18-year-old high school senior got away with murder before he turned 19. After graduating from high school, Wayne joined the US Navy as an enlisted sailor. After boot camp, Wayne was stationed in San Diego, California aboard the USS “Robison.” It was while serving on the Robison that Wayne was called back to Missoula in order to face a grilling from Missoula County Attorney Robert “Dusty” Deschamps about his possible involvement in the Donna Pounds murder [LINK 7]. As previously mentioned, this interview came to nothing, and Wayne was allowed to return to San Diego.

 

Wayne’s military career went south fast. In early 1977, Wayne was demoted in rank and fined hundreds of dollars because he was found in possession of marijuana. Then, just two days after the end of his suspension for this first crime, Wayne was caught again with drugs. His second offense saw Wayne in possession not only of marijuana, but also LSD, two illegal butterfly knives, and a stolen pair of binoculars. For this offense, Wayne was given a “general discharge” by the Navy on November 29, 1977 [LINK 8].

 

Wayne returned home to Missoula to live with his father. Shortly thereafter Wayne found a job as a bouncer at the country and western bar where his mother used to work.

 

7. The Murder of Devonna Nelson

 

In July 1978, Devonna Nelson disappeared from the streets of her native Seattle, Washington. Nelson was a runaway with a checkered past, so not much was made of her disappearance. Months later, in late 1979, the unidentified body of a white female was found near a hiking trail outside of Missoula. Because of the location, the victim was named “Betty Beavertail” by detectives [LINK 9].

 

Betty Beavertail had been sexually assaulted before being stabbed to death. Police had very little to go on at the time. In fact, the victim’s identity would not be known until 2009, when Betty Beavertail was finally revealed to be the missing 14-year-old Devonna Nelson [LINK 10].

 

There was not much to tie Wayne to this murder. The only evidence was completely circumstantial: Wayne visited a Navy friend in Seattle in 1979, so therefore could have met Devonna. Second, at around the same time, a local Missoula woman contacted police and told them that someone had broken into her house and tied several strange ligatures to her bedpost. Only a few Missoula detectives knew that this bizarre break-in looked exactly like the Donna Pounds crime scene.

 

6. Satanic Panic

 

Wayne Nance’s crimes in Missoula had a profound effect on the citizens of Missoula. Not only did his sex murders damage the city’s peaceful reputation, but they also touched off a small-scale “Satanic panic” throughout the city and county.

 

It all began before the Donna Pounds murder. Rumors began to spread in Missoula that a murderous satanic cult was active in Montana and eastern Idaho. Most of the rumors said that Rathdrum, Idaho was the cult’s capital [LINK 11].  Further fuel was added to this fire by the murder of Donna Pounds, which local tongues claimed was done by cultists seeking a Christian victim. Besides Pounds, 1974 also saw the abduction and murder of a young girl as well as several disappearances.

 

Real-life crimes in Missoula were paired with reported animal sacrifices near the mill towns of Bonner and Milltown. Rumors also said that the woods near the University of Montana campus contained a satanic shrine built for human sacrifices. The satanic panic of Missoula grew so large that a sociology professor and a graduate student actually wrote a long paper on the subject. They found that the rumors began at Sentinel High School. Wayne Nance attended that same school.

 

Curiously, the other major high school in Missoula is Hellgate High School, which is named after the nearby ghost town of Hellgate.

 

5. The Murder of Marci Bachmann

 

Like Devonna Nelson, Marcella “Marci” Cheri Bachman was a drifter. Whenever anyone asked, she told them that she was originally from Texas. In 1984, Bachman, 16, went missing. Less than two years later, on March 30, 1986, someone reported seeing her in Seattle. This was a false sighting.

 

The truth was that Marci was dead, but nobody knew it yet. On December 24, 1984, an unidentified female body was found in a shallow grave near Deer Creek. The victim had been shot in the head. The corpse was given the name “Debbie Dear Creek” by investigators. She would not be identified as Marci Bachman until a DNA test in 2006 [LINK 12].

 

Marci met Wayne Nance at the Cabin, the bar that he worked at as a bouncer. From there, Marci moved in with Wayne and George Nance. This would last until September 1984, when Wayne shot Marci, whom others knew by the name “Robin,” three times in the head and dumped her in a pre-dug grave [LINK 13].

 

4. The Murder of “Christy Crystal Creek”

 

On September 9, 1985, a skeleton was found near Crystal Creek in Missoula. The skeleton was found by a bear hunter. Detectives learned that the victim had died sometime between 1983 and 1985, had been shot with a .32-caliber firearm using Winchester/Western Silver Tip bullets, was most likely between 20 and 35-years-old, stood between 4’10 and 5’2, and weighed approximately 90 to 100 pounds. A forensic examination also found that the victim was a female of Asian, most likely Japanese ancestry. The skeleton was given the nickname of “Christy Crystal Creek” [LINK 14].

 

Christy Crystal Creek remains unidentified to this day. Wayne Nance is believed to have killed the unknown woman. Beyond that, not much else is known about this case at all.

 

3. Double Murder

 

Wayne’s lust for murder increased in ferocity as 1985 came to a close. Unbeknownst to the Missoula police, Wayne was a midnight prowler who regularly broke into unoccupied and occupied houses. Wayne would then sketch out the interior of these houses from memory. It is likely that Wayne began doing this as early as 1974 if not earlier. However, Wayne did not attempt his first home invasion murder since the Donna Pounds case until the terrible night of December 12, 1985.

 

On that night, Wayne broke into the Ravalli County home of Mike and Teresa Shook. Wayne tied up the couple, murdered them both, and then set their house on fire. The fire almost killed the four Shook children. The only clues that the police had to go on were the fact that the killer had taken two items from the home—a ceramic elk statue and a knife [LINK 15].

 

This horrific murder would not be tied to Wayne until 1986, when police searched his room and found a photograph of his father George holding the ceramic elk [LINK 16]. By the time that investigators learned this, Wayne was already dead.

 

2. The Failed Double Homicide

 

By 1986, Wayne worked at Conlin’s Furniture store in Missoula. While working there as a delivery driver, Wayne developed an unhealthy fascination for Kris Wells, the store’s manager. On September 3, 1986, Wayne drove to the home of Kris and her husband Doug Wells. After Doug Wells found Wayne asleep in his driveway, Wayne asked Doug for a flashlight. A trusting Doug led Wayne into the family’s home. Wayne pulled out a gun once he crossed the home’s threshold.




 

Wayne forced Kris to tie her husband up. Wayne then led Kris to an upstairs bedroom, while he tied her to the bedposts using the same ligature patterns as the Donna Pounds case. Wayne most likely raped Kris before returning downstairs to stab Doug with an eight-inch knife. This did not kill Doug, who somehow managed to untie himself and grab a rifle. Doug met Wayne in the bedroom, where he shot Wayne in the abdomen. Wayne returned fire with his pistol before Doug managed to shoot him in the head [LINK 17].

 

Doug and Kris Wells survived their ordeal; Wayne Nance died the next day at a local hospital. After their brush with the Missoula Mauler, Doug and Kris Wells befriended the famous FBI profiler John Douglas, who mentions their case in his book “Mindhunter” [LINK 18].

 

1. Other Murders 

 

Wayne Nance is the prime suspect in five murders in Missoula between 1974 and 1985. Currently, besides focusing on finally identifying Christy Crystal Creek, Missoula’s cold case detectives are trying to tie Wayne to other unsolved cases. For a time, Wayne was suspected of the 1974 murder of 5-year-old Siobhan McGuiness, but was later ruled out thanks to DNA evidence [LINK 19].

 

Given that Wayne was known to occasionally travel to the Pacific Northwest (especially Seattle) it is possible that he is responsible for some of that city’s unsolved crimes and/or disappearances between 1977 and 1985. Similarly, a string of unsolved murders and disappearances in Missoula between 1974 and 1975 have been blamed on Wayne, although he left the area after finishing high school in 1974.

 

The sad truth is that not much is known or can be known about Wayne Nance. He died before he could give a confession. Similarly, Wayne’s “signature” (his criminal patterns) varied over the years. Although Wayne liked to shoot his victims execution-style, he also stabbed at least one of his victims to death, plus he carried out two successful home invasions and attempted another. Finally, given the fact that Wayne went to great lengths to create blueprints of the homes he invaded, it is plausible that he carried out an untold number of sexual assaults, robberies, or other crimes that were either unreported or went unsolved.

 

 

LINK 1: https://www.macrotrends.net/cities/us/mt/missoula/crime-rate-statistics

LINK 2: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/03/books/review/jon-krakauers-missoula-about-rape-in-a-college-town.html

LINK 3: https://books.google.com/books?id=OY4nDQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=wayne+nance&hl=en&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiXztzF2PLnAhXDmnIEHW7tAy8Q6AEwAXoECAYQAg#v=onepage&q=George%20Nance&f=false

LINK 4: https://books.google.com/books?id=OY4nDQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=wayne+nance&hl=en&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiXztzF2PLnAhXDmnIEHW7tAy8Q6AEwAXoECAYQAg#v=snippet&q=coven&f=false

LINK 5: http://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/DocumentCenter/View/457/Nance-Wayne?bidId=

LINK 6: https://books.google.com/books?id=OY4nDQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=wayne+nance&hl=en&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiXztzF2PLnAhXDmnIEHW7tAy8Q6AEwAXoECAYQAg#v=snippet&q=Luger&f=false

LINK 7: https://missoulian.com/news/local/former-prosecutor-tells-missoula-serial-killer-s-story-during-historic/article_16402aeb-77d6-578a-893a-ba3b2ad25b43.html

LINK 8: https://books.google.com/books?id=OY4nDQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=wayne+nance&hl=en&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiXztzF2PLnAhXDmnIEHW7tAy8Q6AEwAXoECAYQAg#v=snippet&q=general%20discharge&f=false

LINK 9: http://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/DocumentCenter/View/457/Nance-Wayne?bidId=

LINK 10: https://morbidology.com/the-serial-killer-killed-by-his-victim-wayne-nance/

LINK 11: https://books.google.com/books?id=OY4nDQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=wayne+nance&hl=en&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiXztzF2PLnAhXDmnIEHW7tAy8Q6AEwAXoECAYQAg#v=snippet&q=Satanic&f=false

LINK 12: https://missoulian.com/news/nance-victim-named-years-after-remains-found-woman-identified/article_79f911c7-3fb7-5ec4-84c7-d712bdefaf9f.html

LINK 13: https://missoulian.com/news/nance-victim-named-years-after-remains-found-woman-identified/article_79f911c7-3fb7-5ec4-84c7-d712bdefaf9f.html

LINK 14: http://www.doenetwork.org/cases/3ufmt.html

LINK 15: http://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/DocumentCenter/View/457/Nance-Wayne?bidId=

LINK 16: https://billingsgazette.com/wayne-nance-the-missoula-mauler/article_af33b419-ca33-50b8-b5e6-c592d4b23373.html

LINK 17: https://billingsgazette.com/wayne-nance-the-missoula-mauler/article_af33b419-ca33-50b8-b5e6-c592d4b23373.html

LINK 18: https://listverse.com/2019/12/30/10-horrifying-little-known-mindhunter-cases/

LINK 19: https://billingsgazette.com/wayne-nance-the-missoula-mauler/article_af33b419-ca33-50b8-b5e6-c592d4b23373.html

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Nagorno-Karabakh Tinderbox Has Been Re-Lit

 


September 27, 2020 appears to be the first day of a new war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both states declared martial law following firefights that claimed the lives of at least 16 soldiers and civilians. Armenia accuses Azeri forces of directing air and artillery fire on members of the Artsakh Defence Army. Armenia further claims that an ethnic Armenian woman and her child were killed by Azeri rounds. In response, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan tweeted, “At the decision of the Government, martial and general mobilization is being declared in the Republic of #Armenia. I call on the personnel attached to the troops to present themselves to their district commissariats.” The tweet ends with, “For fatherland, for victory,” which sounds like war is coming.

 

Again, as with the deadly clashes in April 2016, which killed 200 people, the source of the conflict is the restive Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan—a de facto independent state ruled by the Republic of Artsakh. The Nagorno-Karabakh region has an Armenian majority, which means it is also a Christian majority region in an increasingly assertive Muslim state. Making matters more difficult are the giants standing behind Armenia and Azerbaijan in this conflict.

 

The neo-Ottoman Republic of Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already declared support for its fellow Turkic Muslims in Azerbaijan, with Erdogan saying after a phone call with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev that Armenia’s leaders were guilty of “dragging them [the Armenian people] to catastrophe.” Erdogan also made clear that Ankara would continue its policy of solidarity with Azerbaijan. Armenia’s Defense Ministry has accused Turkey of direct meddling in the brand new conflict. If this is the case (and it likely is), then Erdogan clearly does not believe that the Turkish army is overextended, despite having troops in Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya. 

 

As for Armenia, its major backer is Moscow, which has so far reacted to the fighting with demands for a ceasefire. These sentiments were echoed by the US State Department and Agnes von der Muhll, the spokeswoman for France’s foreign ministry. Russia is in the toughest bind of all, for both Armenia and Azerbaijan are former members of the Soviet Union and both maintain strong trade ties with the old mother country. Russia is by far and away Armenia’s largest export and import partner, making up almost 27-percent of all trade. Armenia also hosts a Russian military base at Gyumri. As for Azerbaijan, it is always hungry for Russian gold and other goods, plus Baku remains the main crude oil hub of the Caucasus. A war with Armenia would throw its major oil customers like Italy, Czechia, and of course Turkey into panic. There is of course the wild card of Israel, which has strong relations with Azerbaijan that include major armament sales.


 


The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan really began back in 1988. In that year, as the Soviet Union began its steady collapse, the tense peace that had been established by Moscow in the 1920s, when the majority Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region was created, fell with it. In 1988, Nagorno-Karabakh passed a resolution to join Armenia. Three years later, when the USSR died, the region declared independence. War followed suit. The war pitted Armenia and the Artsakh Republic against Azerbaijan. The government of President Boris Yeltsin began supplying the Armenians with guns and fuel as early as 1992, while money, arms, and even volunteers poured in from the large Armenian diaspora. The newly independent Ukraine under President Leonid Kravchuk threw its support behind Azerbaijan. Turkey also joined the Azeri cause, and so too did a dark cabal of non-state actors, including members of the Gray Wolves, a Turkish ultranationalist organization which is now tied to Erdogan and his foreign policy, Chechen Islamists led by the warlord Shamil Basayev (who considered the Azeris cowards), and veterans of the Afghan mujahedin, who, to quote Michael Taarnby of the Danish Institute for International Studies, came “to the aid of a perceived beleaguered Muslim nation” much like they would later do in Bosnia. The war (1991-1994) killed 30,000 and made refugees of thousands more. The ceasefire brokered by Russia in 1994 has created a frozen conflict rather than peace.

 

The stakes here are much higher than a simple land or border dispute. For thirty years, and especially under the reign of President Aliyev, the Azeri government has carried out a systematic cleansing of Armenian culture and religious artefacts. Simon Maghakyan and Sarah Pickman, writers for the art journal Hyperallergic, published a piece last year making the case that Azerbaijan’s ethnic and historical cleansing campaign exceeds even the destruction wrought by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Maghakyan has called the destruction of more than 2,000 khackhkars (Armenian cross-stones), 89 churches, and 22,000 tombstones the “greatest cultural genocide of the 21st century.” The West and much of the rest of the world has met this claim with silence, which is in keeping with how they have also reacted to Turkey’s ongoing campaign against the Greek Christian heritage of both Asia Minor and Cyprus.



 

So what role does the US play in this? Honestly, not much. Azerbaijan is a US ally. Both Israel and the US see Azerbaijan as a potential bulwark against Iran due to Tehran’s long-standing desire to annex the entire country. US relations with Armenia are less strong, but still noteworthy. However, given Armenia’s closeness to Russia and the Democrats current hysteria over everything involving Russia, things could get dicey if Russian tanks appear in Nagorno-Karabakh like they did in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008. The administration of President George W. Bush had the good sense to stay out of that war, and President Trump should in this one instance mimic his predecessor. The hatreds of the Caucasus are strong, deep, and ancient. They also have little bearing on the US and her foreign policy. The best policy would be for President Trump to play peacemaker like he has in the Middle East.

 

 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

How American Noir Influenced French Philosophy


 















Although the United States and the United Kingdom share a “special relationship” and both belong to the wealthy and powerful Anglosphere of nations, America’s first friend on the international stage was the Kingdom of France. Hopefully most American students know that it was France that sent warships and troops to help the rebellious American colonists during their war against London. Fewer know that France was the second nation to recognize the United States (Morocco was the first), and still less know that the first US embassy was located in Paris. In short, France and the US may not have a special relationship, but they have a deep one based on history, a shared political culture, and much more.

 

This is especially true in the world of literature. French poet Charles Baudelaire first brought American literature to his country by translating Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poetry in the 1860s. Baudelaire’s infatuation with the dark and disturbing world of Poe led to claims of plagiarism against the author of The Flowers of Evil. True or not, it nevertheless remains that generations of French schoolchildren have been reared on Poe. Poe’s influence is so strong in France that Spanish critic Angel Guerra once noted that although Poe was a son of American soil, “his elevation to immortality…is the gift of generous France.”

 

America’s influence on French letters continued and expanded during the 20th century. In particular, American “hard-boiled” detective fiction, with its proletarian sensibilities and rough characters, appealed to the intellectuals and writers based in Paris. The hard-boiled style began with the work of former Pinkerton detective Dashiell Hammett, whose short stories began appearing in the pulp magazine Black Mask in 1923. The America presented in Hammett’s short fiction and later novels is a violent place: a place where the police are as corrupt as the crooks, where guns are quick, and where women cannot be trusted under any circumstances. Raymond Chandler, one of Hammett’s literary disciples and an arch-stylist whose Philip Marlowe novels created the blueprint for film noir, once wrote in an essay entitled “The Simple Art of Murder” that Hammett took “murder out of the Venetian vase” and put it back in the gutter where it lives and breeds. 


Arguably no American writer of the hard-boiled style had a greater impact on French letters than James M. Cain. The son of a well-to-do Maryland Catholic family (just like Hammett, by the way), Cain gave up an academic career in order to be a journalist who specialized in colorful crime stories. Cain used this background to craft his greatest novels, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) and Double Indemnity (serialized in 1936, published in 1943). Both tell essentially the same story: a lonely drifter falls in love with a dangerous woman and is then conned into killing the woman’s estranged husband. Cain’s men are aimless, but easily manipulated, while his female characters range from voracious to practical serial killers. Neither tend to have complex or even rational motives for their violence. It is this quality that influenced Albert Camus, who openly praised The Postman Always Rings Twice for inspiring him to write The Stranger (1942).

 

Camus wasn’t the only French existentialist to be influenced by American crime fiction. Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1948 essay, What is Literature? praised American popular literature for technical innovations as well as their adoption of objective and omniscient narration. Claude-Edmonde Magny’s The Age of the American Novel (1948) made the connection between Hammett’s work and the way existentialists viewed human relationships. The postwar boom in American crime literature in France did not just appeal to the intellectuals; in 1945, Marcel Duhamel began reprinting Chandler and Hammett in French editions known as Serie noire. At the same time, movie theaters in France, the US, and beyond showed film noir classics like Out of the Past (1947), directed by the Frenchman Jacques Tourneur, and The Blue Dahlia (1946), written by none other than Chandler himself.




Even in the 1960s, when much of the French intelligentsia excoriated the United States for its war in Vietnam and its consumerist and capitalist mass culture, auteurs like Jean-Pierre Melville and Jean-Luc Goddard made smart, critically-acclaimed films that were more ore less Gallic interpretations of the American hard-boiled tradition, both on-screen and on-the-page. This tradition proved powerful beyond France’s borders, as the giallo mystery sub-genre in Italy and the Krimi in West Germany also tapped the same rich literary and cinematic vein.

 

It may seem like an impossible story, but it is a fact that hard-boiled crime stories jumped from the pulp magazine ghetto to the glossy world of high culture as America became the lone Western superpower in the world. Just like the French Surrealists who embraced the potboiler Fantomas novels of pre-World War I France, the postwar existentialists saw something meaningful and profound in American hardboiled crime fiction, thus proving that “popular” or “populist” are not synonymous for disposable trash.

 

In this day and age, when populist political movements take aim at unaccountable and internationalist elites, it may behoove the smart set to remember America’s literary exports to France and the fact that the masses and mass culture are part of the story of high culture as well. They just might be a little rougher around the edges is all.




Monday, August 24, 2020

History Behind the Masks: Scooby-Doo and Pulp Culture



“…And I would’ve gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids.” This is the best known and most overused phrase in the history of Scooby-Doo, the longest-running cartoon series in television history. It has become such a pop culture cliche that Spanish writer Edgar Cantero called his Lovecraft-meets-Scooby-Doo novel, Meddling Kids. 


Cantero’s mash-up gets to the heart of the matter: Scooby-Doo and its many variations (Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, and the more adult and explicitly Lovecraftian  Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated) all come out of the same pulp milieu as H.P. Lovecraft and the weird fiction genre. Indeed, the genesis of Scooby-Doo and its formulaic plots can be traced back to two contemporary sources: British mystery novelist Edgar Wallace and the weird menace/shudder genre of the American pulp magazines of the 1930s. Without these sources, as well as the I Love a Mystery radio serials of the 1940s and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis television show of the 1960s, CBS executive Fred Silverman would not have approached Hanna-Barbera writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears and artist Iwao Takamoto with the idea of a mystery cartoon for kids.  


Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace was born on April 1, 1875. On that same day, Englishman Sir Francis Galton prepared and published the first weather map in the Times newspaper [1]. The young Wallace was raised during the golden age of the British Empire, the Industrial Revolution, and Victorian science. It was a world of mighty expectations and deeply felt affirmations about Britain’s position at the top of the world’s pecking order. Young Wallace, however, was born as the illegitimate son of an actress and raised by a London fish porter named George Freeman. Wallace left school at age twelve [2].  


Despite his inauspicious beginning, Wallace made up for his social handicaps by being an energetic hustler. He left home at fifteen and began working as a sailor on a trawler. Three years later, he enlisted in the Royal Kent Regiment of the British Army. After a transfer to the medical corps, Wallace served as a private during the Second Boer War (1899-1902). Wallace discovered his love of writing while in South Africa. He not only published poems in local English-language newspapers, but he also sent war dispatches to Reuters. These pro-British write-ups won him the attention of the editors at the new Daily Mail. Wallace was hired, and by 1904 he covered the crime beat in London. As a reporter, Wallace had a penchant for the sensational. Maybe this is one of the reasons why the Daily Mail found it easy to suppress his damning, but true reports about atrocities in the Belgian Congo [3]. 



Journalism did not pay the bills. Therefore, Wallace, by then a young father, turned to writing fiction. His first big success came in 1905 with the publication of The Four Just Men, a novel about four vigilantes who manage to stop the passage of the Aliens Extradition Bill by assassinating Foreign Secretary Sir Philip Ramon in a locked room. The Four Just Men became a bestseller, and decades later it would be adapted several times over. 


Wallace’s career truly took off during the Jazz Age. During the 1920s, Wallace more or less invented the modern thriller. At the peak of his powers, Wallace reportedly drank 30 to 40 cups of tea a day and smoked between 80 and 100 cigarettes. Caffeinated and well supplied with nicotine, Wallace managed to produce 18 novels in 1926. Three years later he produced 34 novels in a single year [4]. It helped that Wallace narrated his novels onto wax cylinders rather than peck them out on a typewriter. Sometimes he worked seventy-two hours straight [5]. One apocryphal story says that when a friend came to see him and was informed that Wallace was busy working on a  novel, the friend replied with, “I’ll wait.” 


Of course, as anyone who has ever read a Wallace potboiler can testify, many if not all follow the same formula. A wealthy British individual is blackmailed by a shadowy cabal. A string of murders occur that somehow tie back to this blackmail scheme. There are hints of the supernatural too. In 1926’s The Black Abbot, a rumored treasure horde at a ruined abbey is supposedly protected by ghosts. More often, rather than ghosts, the villains of the piece are masked criminals or ghoulishly made-up killers. In almost every instance, the detective of the story reveals that the ghosts and ghouls are actually all too human. 


Wallace died at age 56 in 1932. During the last year of his life, Wallace had a hand in making film history. Namely, his screenplay entitled The Beast would undergo several transformations before becoming the classic, King Kong. While co-director and producer Merian C. Cooper always downplayed Wallace’s involvement, RKO Pictures did give Wallace a creative credit (“From an idea conceived by…”) and used his name a lot during advertisement for the feature film.


Wallace’s name enjoyed a renaissance in West Germany in the 1950s and 1960s. German film company Rialto Film began adapting Wallace’s thrillers to the big screen. Between 1959 and 1972, the company produced 32 feature-length films based on Wallace’s novels. Many of the films open with a disembodied voice saying, “Hello, here speaks Edgar Wallace” (Hallo, hier sprecht Edgar Wallace). The films were shown all over Europe and North America, where they became popular thrillers. Acting legend Klaus Kinski appeared in several of these films. It seems far from a coincidence that the Edgar Wallace films and their formula were popular at the same time that Scooby-Doo was being created in Los Angeles. 



Across the Pond, American pulp writers took the basic outlines of Wallace’s thrillers and cranked up the violence, sleaze, and menace. Hence, the weird menace pulps (also known as “shudders”) featured stories of masked sadists preying on buxom blonds. Others, like the June 1934 short story “The Black Pit” by William B. Rainey (a pseudonym of prolific pulp writer Wyatt Blassingame), featured escaped lunatics terrorizing young couples or brave individuals [6].  



Unlike Wallace’s fiction, the weird menace writers demanded that their readers suspend their disbelief. This is because these stories featured inexplicable supernatural scenes such as smoke coming from coffins, the appearance of apparitions, ESP, and other events seemingly impossible to explain through pure rationality. In the end, most of these bizarre events are proven to be the work of ingenious criminals using dry ice, projectors, colored flashlights, and other objects. Despite looking like skeletons or vampires, the villains in these pulp pieces are almost always guilty of wearing stealing helmets, fake fangs, or stage make-up. 


The weird menace pulps took the outrageous plots of the Grand Guignol of Paris, added more two-fisted action, and prioritized scenes of graphic torture. It was this third element that ultimately led to the banning of weird menace pulps in the early 1940s. Too much blood and too much sex (most of the weird menace covers featured naked, half-naked, or implied nude women) ultimately doomed these stories and magazines to the dustbin of history. 


That is until Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! debuted on September 13, 1969.  Like the weird menace pulps and the Edgar Wallace potboilers then playing on silver screens across the globe, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! featured monster-a-week stories that, despite supernatural scenes, are always revealed to be the work of grumpy caretakers, avaricious farmers, or corrupted professors. The popularity of the first season was so intense that the show was signed to a second season, which ran during the autumn of 1970. The second season is what gave us more slapstick-style humor and those famous chase scenes set to the sugary pop music of the day. 


Believe or not, but Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! initially ended after just two seasons. Scooby and his pals would not appear on television again until 1972, when CBS produced 25 half-hour episodes featuring celebrity guests like The Three Stooges, Batman and Robin, and The Harlem Globetrotters. Again, in each episode, the formula remained the same: the gang stumbles upon some kind of ghost or mythical creature, then, after investigating the matter, discover that the supernatural is perfectly natural. When The Scooby-Doo Show began on ABC in 1976, the formula stayed the same. When Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! was revived for a third season on ABC in 1978, the usual Anyplace, USA locations were replaced by actual spots like Scotland, Turkey, Brazil, and Salem, Massachusetts. Scooby-Doo had gone global. 




















If for nothing else, Scooby-Doo takes the basic plot outlines of Wallace and the shudder pulps and turns them into recognizable cultural markers. Any Joe Blow on the street knows something about Wallace and the shudder pulps, but they know that in a roundabout way because of Hanna-Barbera’s greatest creation. And thus two converging strains of British and American pulp history continue to influence writers and artists all across the world, while simultaneously putting smiles on the faces of generations of kids. 


And in case you’re wondering: The first ever use of the “you meddling kids” line appeared during the September 26, 1970 episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! entitled “Scooby’s Night with a Frozen Fright.” The villain who spouts this classic phrase is Professor Wayne, who spends the majority of the episode pretending to be a de-iced caveman. 


[1]: “Francis Galton as Meteorologist,” galton.org, accessed 7 Apr., 2020. 

[2]: “Edgar Wallace,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 28 Mar., 2020. 

[3]: Duncan Campbell, “Stranger Than Fiction: The Life of Edgar Wallace, the Man Who Created King Kong by Neil Clark — A Review,” The Guardian, 30 Jul., 2015. 

[4]: Ibid. 

[5]: David Stuart Davies, “The King of Thrillers,” Wordsworth, 25 Nov., 2016. 

[6]: Robert Kenneth Jones, The Shudder Pulps: A History of the Weird Menace Magazines of the 1930s (New York: Signet Classics, 1975): 54.