Is Child Kidnapper Philip Garrido More Evil Than Jeffrey Dahmer? Expert Offers Handy 22-Point Ranking Guide
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Leonard Lake didn't seem evil to my husband when the pair worked side by side. Annoying, a pain in the ass, but not evil.
It was the summer of 1980, and my husband was operating a chess booth at the Marin County, Calif., Renaissance Faire. Lake, whom he'd never met before and never knew by name but recognized from pictures in the paper five years later, operated the adjacent booth, in which fairgoers paid to pat a goat whose horns were fused together in roughly the center of its head, and which Lake -- striding back and forth in costume -- called "the living unicorn."
Lake flung endless come-ons at passing females: "You, my lady, can touch me!" My husband helped Lake build a fence between the booths. Lake paid him with a pan of brownies that my husband realized later -- as his chess skills slipped -- were packed with hash. Lake once offered him a ride home, but my husband said no, because he didn't want to spend two hours in a van with the unicorn.
Two years later, Lake and his partner-in-crime, Charles Ng, began abducting, robbing, raping, torturing and killing people in their remote rural home: at least 12 over the next three years, but maybe twice that many. Much of the rape-torture they filmed.
Philip Garrido's neighbors and printing-business customers didn't think he was evil.
One customer "said she thought Garrido was eccentric but harmless -- just 'the local printer,' " we read in USA Today.
Another told reporters that "nothing seemed out of the ordinary" in his own dealings with Garrido. This customer met Garrido's longtime captive Jaycee Dugard, but never suspected that she was a kidnap victim living in the printer's backyard or that she had borne her first child by Garrido at age 14, three years after being abducted.
OK, a few neighbors suspected something fishy. Noticing tents in his yard and little unaccounted-for blonde girls, they called him "Creepy Phil" and voiced their concerns to their partners and even to local cops -- who dropped the ball, but that, while horrible, is not the point.
It's all about the hindsight now that Garrido is under arrest and being reviled around the world as the monster du jour.
So now, slavering over headlines such as "No Mercy for Jaycee's Kidnapper" and "Inside Jaycee's Terror Tent," the world has yet again reached that strange place in which it finds itself every few years: struggling to process the latest example of humanity gone to extremes.
I almost typed "humanity gone wrong" and then "humanity gone bad" but didn't, because that would be too easy, too reflexive in an era when such words are loaded, when we are warned that those who judge are precipitously playing God.
About some cases -- Lake, Garrido -- nearly everyone agrees. But others spark sharp debate as mitigating factors, acting like mood rings or LSD, wield disparate effects on each of us.
Learning, for instance, that child-killer Mary Bell was raped as a toddler by her sex-worker mother's customers or that suspected doctor-shooter Scott Roeder has a history of anti-abortion militance, we personalize and politicize. We maximize and minimize.
Of the Libyan released from a Scottish prison last month, New Statesman columnist Peter Wilby writes: "As it happens, I think Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was innocent of the Lockerbie bombing."
Of the same Libyan, one reader responding to an article in New Jersey's Asbury Park Press writes: "The Scotts are whimps. someone should have taken this animal out. I hope the Scotts get a taste of pan Am, 9/11, spanish train etc these a-holes hate us and want to kill us."