About Me

My name is Jane Howatt. Welcome to my blog!

For 13 years I rode shotgun with John “Jigsaw” St. John, one of the LAPD‘s most celebrated detectives, as he investigated notorious murder cases.

The collision of this ordinary suburban mom and the underbelly of evil is the subject of my book, “The Killer, the Cop and Me.”

On my blog, I‘ll post about true crime, my life and what I learned from the mind of a brilliant homicide cop.

I invite you to join me for the ride!

Archive for the ‘In The Beginning’ Category

What to do on a rainy day? See “Wolfman.”

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

It was pouring outside, my brain was out of thoughts, ideas, words, colors – anything, and I needed to get out from behind my desk where I live, eat and sometimes sleep. It was time to flee. The best flee places are the beach with my dogs, a coffeeshop, my good friend, Maria’s house where we eat carrots and tell silly stories and the movies. The choices were romance or horror so I chose Wolfman – a movie I would never have chosen but for one unexplainable reason. I wanted a good scare.

As a kid, I was terrified of a nursery rhyme character called Wee Willie Winkie. He ran “upstairs and downstairs in his nightgown” and I was certain one night he would climb into my window and drag me into a deep dark forest. Willie never came. But now as I sat in a dark theatre with a teensy bag of popcorn watching a man turn into a wolf who tore people to bits – I didn’t flinch.

I asked myself, if I am a true crime writer who has written about and and lived with death and horror – why didn’t these images on the screen terrify me? Then I thought: Real terror sneaks into your life like the friendly next door neighbor borrowing a quart of milk. Or it’s the cheerful piano teacher or the trusted aunt Mabel. Real terror is elusive and unexpected and sometimes has a friendly, comfortable, familiar voice – not a howl that jangles you to your toenails.

I left the theatre remembering how terrified I was standing in the the silence in the Mojave Desert where Bill Bradford murdered Shari and Tracey. There was just wind blowing and sand flying. That’s all there was. But the silence was more frightening than all the wolf howls Hollywood could manufacture.

The Psychopathic Mind: What Went Wrong?

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

I invited four friends to my home for an all-out, free-for-all analysis of one aspect of my book: The Killer, The Cop and Me. Our intent was to grapple with the motives, the personality and the psychology of the killer – Bill Bradford.

Included in the group were (1) an actress/screenwriter who had edited portions of my book proposal (2) a writer who had met John St. John and written a screenplay based on the story (3) a PhD neuropsychologist whose area of expertise was psychopathic behavior and (4) another writer working on a memoir. We gathered around the table armed with notepads and a chart and timeline of Bill Bradford’s personal and criminal history.

The basics: Bradford’s aggressive behavior began at age 13 with an assault on a neighbor’s 12 year old daughter. He was counseled and released from custody. Two years later, he was arrested for indecent exposure when he jumped naked out of a tree and tried to grab a girl who was standing under the tree. His descent into a life of unspeakable crimes had begun.

The five of us tossed around plausable explanations for Bradford’s hatred of women. My psychologist friend spoke up, “Bradford killed for release. The tension and conflict inside him would build and build until he was ready to explode. Then he would rape and kill. He would go into a rage that transcended his ego. His character was so fractured he was unable to gain fulfillment or joy or release from his attacks so he needed to destroy all sexuality of his victims – to dehumanize and objectify them – so they would become almost non-human. As his attacks became less rewarding hey became more vicious.”

I asked, “What was he searching for?”

Cheryl thought for a moment than said, “Bradford was searching for the keys that would unlock some emotion, some memory that was good and safe. When he failed to find those needs, he struck out. He struck out again and again until there was no stopping him. That is, until St. John arrested him.”

The depth and tragedy of Bill Bradford and what his victims endured, quieted us.

The Beat Goes On

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

When Ventura Star Free Press reporter, Kim Gregory, settled into a chair across the kitchen table for an interview about my odd-couple, 13 year ride-along with Jigsaw John, I was ready. There were photos spead from one end of my oak table to the other. There was a stack of notes, Shari Milller’s “To Do” list and Jigsaw’s 50th anniversary invitation. My head was filled with Jigsaw stories and the complex details of the Bradford case that had consumed me for years and coffee was brewing. I felt like an actress who had studied her lines for “Hamlet” and the curtain was about to rise. I had been given the opportunity to tell a story that is a huge part of who I am.

This was my chance to connect with readers in a deep and meaningful way.

When Kim asked how I met St. John, I half-expected the cagey detective to come out of nowhere with: “That’s not exactly how it happened, Jane. Here’s my take.” When she asked what it was like to meet the snitch who gave St.John the break in the Freeway Killer case, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to hear St. John’s growling voice behind me: “I couldn’t believe it when Jane walked into Scott Fraser’s apartment with a homemade quiche. And to boot, she served it on china plates. Scott was best friends with a serial killer! He lived in a hole-in-the-wall apartment, was dressed in a white t-shirt covered with holes and was used to hot dogs for dinner.” I realized in the middle of the interview how much I missed Jigsaw’s vibrant, edgy, arger-than-life world.

Pretty soon, Kim and I were chatting like sorority sisters planning the upcoming weekend. But the missing voice was Jigsaw’s. Jigsaw would have dazzled her with his Irish charm. WOWED her with his gift for storytelling. Touched her with his warm humanity. The extra seat at the table should have been his and I missed him.

It is up to me to bring Jigsaw to life for the readers with my words. I promised him I would do that. That is exactly my plan. http://www.vcstar.com/news/2010/jan/16/the-beat-goes-on/?partner=RSS

Train Leaving the Station for Writer’s Conference

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

I’m ready to come out of my writing cave. My office looks like the inside of a broom closet. I can’t find anything – not the last chapter I wrote, not the checkbook, not the scrap of paper I told my self I could not lose or I would go to jail. I need to get out into the sunshine for more than Vitamin D.

I need to commiserate with other writers and talk about our dysfunctional characters, our passion for writing and our devious strategies for luring publishers to our submissions.

I need a big dose of those workshops that last all night so I can listen to other writers read from their works-in-progress, marveling at their talent and their willingness to travel miles just to connect to other writers and agents/editors who can help them make their dreams a reality.

The San Diego Writers conference is a gem. Last year I attended some sparkling workshops where I learned how to increase dramatic tension (Phyllis Gebauer’s “Read and Critique”); a thoughtful workshop titled “How to Tell What You Really Want to Write”; a hilarious workshop led by two cops titled “Law and Disorder”; and a grab bag of workshops that made all of us think more deeply about the craft we love.

I will share my two favorite group leaders – Lynn Vannucci – who now edits my work like a finicky neurosurgeon and Marla Miller who conducts a top notch workshop on marketing.

I invite others to come along for the ride. You won’t regret it.

Get Cops Back on the Beat

Monday, December 21st, 2009

When I saw this article “Get police out of cruisers, back on the beat” in DelMarvNow by James White Jr. it stuck a cord because that is exactly what Jigsaw told me when I asked him what LA (or any city) could do to get a handle on crime. Bring back the beat cop! The idea was simple and smart: get cops out of their cars and onto the street where crime happens. John St. John was a beat cop before he went into Officer Involved Shootings and Homicide. He told me how important it was for him to know the families in the area he patrolled.

If a kid had a problem with drugs – the beat cop knew about it and worked with him.

If a wife had a problem with a husband who abused her – the beat cop had a chat with him.

If granny needed a ride to the doctor – the beat cop could be a taxi service.

Block by block, family by family, person by person, the beat cop knew and patroled an area and was able to interact with the community in a meaningful way. Crime statistics went down. School attendance went up. The beat cop would be a neighborhood watch/enforcer. Then how about this? Combine the beat cop with after school programs for kids (like the Boys and Girls Clubs) and maybe we would have safer streets and kids who cared about their education.

Teen Charged with Murder. Another Dexter?

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Indianapolis, December 3, 2009.  The newspaper headline reported the crime as matter-of-factly as if it were a car crash. Older brother (Andrew Conley) strangled younger brother (Conner Conley) in what started as a brotherly wrestling match. What happened next was anything but natural and normal.

Andrew Conley who “had had fantasies about killing someone since he was in eighth grade, including cutting someone’s throat,” choked his brother until he passed out. Then he dragged Conner’s body into the kitchen, put on a pair of gloves and choked him “until he noticed blood coming from his nose and mouth.” Finally, he put a plastic bag over his brother’s head, secured it with duct tape and dragged the body to his car.

Then he drove to his girlfriend’s house to give her a sweeheart ring.

If this story doesn’t seem straight out of Kafka – hold on. Apparently, the killer was influenced by the television character, “Dexter” – the glamorous serial killer. Conley told authorities killing his brother “felt just like the serial killer, “Dexter” on the Showtime channel.”

Can an impressionable youth understand the difference between a television character/situation and a real personality in conflict?  Is this television killer/hero sending a message that murder is justified? What concerned me most about this terrible tragedy was the message that behavior has no consequence.

Go ahead and “do your thing.” If you think it’s right – go ahead! You’re the boss!

When I asked the wife of serial killer Bill Bradford about the times her husband choked her, then choked his kids then the times his son choked his sister – she was heartbroken. The pattern of brutality within the family had been established. Choking another person was the norm. There might be crying and there might be pain, but pretty soon it subsided. So what were the consequences of this horrific behavior? More of the same.

The abuser got away with it. Until he got arrested for the murder of two women.

What are your thoughts on this story? How far should media go in depicting violence? I’d like to know.


Publish or Perish

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

It was never my intent after spending 13 years riding alongside Detective John “Jigsaw” St. John to receive letters from publishers that told me they didn’t like my story and they didn’t like my writing and they didn’t think my book fit their list and they already had a book like mine.

Hey! Wait a minute!

I have a cartoon on my bulletin board of Peanuts sitting on his dog house reading a rejection letter that goes: “You don’t understand! This isn’t what I expected! I expected you to publish my book! And send me a check for $75,000.”

I never felt riled up enough to jump on top of our dog’s doghouse and yell to the New York editors who turned down my manuscript, “You dumb brick heads! Can’t you see this is a masterpiece!” But I sure felt Peanut’s pain.

For all you writers out there who pound keys day and night dreaming of the magical day you get a call from your agent telling you your baby has been delivered, I am one of you.

I’ve gone to the conferences and listened to the guest speaker talking about his/her new life as a published writer. I’ve walked past the freshly printed stacks of books piled high thinking – someday! Someday!

I finally had the nerve to measure my stack of rejection letters. All totaled: one-and-a- half inches. That’s a lot of rejection letters.

But you know what? I don’t think of them as rejection letters anymore. When I read them I realize that during the time I was pounding keys and dreaming of the day my book was on the bookshelf, something else was happening.

I was slowly, ever so slowly, mastering the craft.

The words I wrote one year ago were horrible! I deserved those letters. Any publisher who would have published what I wrote when I first started sending them my work would have received his termination papers.

The road to publication is a struggle. It’s filled with pot holes and fits of temper and a few tears. But don’t give up, whatever you do. Do not give up.

Or you will perish. And your brilliant baby will never see the dawn.

Now go write!

“M” is for “Motive”

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

At the beginning of any murder investigation, John St. John would follow the same methodical routine. Once the victim’s body was removed  and the investigating officers had left, he would begin writing the official police document called the crime scene log.

The log was an hour by hour, sometimes minute by minute record of what was happening at the scene. It included time of day, license plates of nearby cars, weather reports, names of potential witnesses – even such a seemingly  inconsequential detail as the names of each business on the street. Then St. John would begin circling the area starting with a large circle at the outer edge of the crime scene then shrinking the path to a very small circle where the body was left.

I walked many of those circles with John St. John.

As he circled, John tried to connect to the mind of the killer.  Jigsaw told me he always thought of the crime scene as the first meeting between the killer and him. The killer had left a body. St. John had decipher the clues left in the dirt, an alley, a trash can, on the floor – so he could catch “the guy.” Jigsaw always referred to the killer as “the guy.”

Then St. John’s mind would turn to motive. Why did the killer resort to murder instead of assault? What drove this human being to take the life of another human? What was going on inside the killer’s head? That puzzle kept John St. John awake at night, preoccupied while he drove, buzzing round in his brain while he worked in his backyard on the weekend.  It was always the why – why – why puzzle of murder that fascinated him. Always the why. Jane

In The Beginning

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

2792_95814852906_809377906_2474658_5028443_nWhen I first started riding “shotgun” with John “Jigsaw” St. John, I didn’t know an Uzi from a .38 or a snitch from a sandwich. I was a Little League mom/Snack bar queen who slung  hot dogs and licorice sticks to five year olds for pennies. If someone would have told me one day I would spend an afternoon trying to get a nickel’s worth of information from a killer’s best friend or hanging out at a bar under a sign that said “Gay Cruising Area”  – notepad in hand – so I could capture the rich details I would need to write a chapter, I would have told them they were wacko.

But that’s exactly what happened.

I became the shadow assistant/best friend/confidant/sidekick to Badge Number One of the LAPD.

In my upcoming blogs, I will take you (the reader) on my journey into Dante’s Inferno tempered with my journey into the mind of a practiced hunter: Jigsaw. I will teach you, entertain you, enlighten you and tell you stories you might find impossible to believe.

Welcome to Homicide 101. No previous experience required.