I have lived atop Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill since 1979. Through no fault of my own, my neighbors and I engage in few crimes and have a range of emotional volatility that results in few murders. This I will not defend. But I can offer you the following as a bit of spirited compensation: Queen Anne is the Pacific Northwest’s font of all things axe-murder. That’s right. Axe-murder. ADVISORY: GORE AND HORROR.
In March of 1990 a hilltop breakfaster had a different kind of morning: someone’d been picking at the fruit-bowl and leaving an axe behind. The axe is the part that excludes the wife and kids, and John Law comes riding in. The handle of the thing is dusted for prints, and a doughnut or two later the offending article is entrusted to the homeowner, who exiles it to the back porch, from whence it would disappear into the ether.
One week later, in a prim colonial over on Bigelow Avenue, our cutting tool turns up in the body of 63-year-old Geneva McDonald; neatly-partitioned, she had also been filigreed with her very own sewing scissors. Investigators recognized the axe (it still had fingerprint dust on it) and, given the extreme violence of the scene, came to the stark realization that Mrs. McDonald was “probably killed by a burglar.” Fair enough. Sometimes burglaries take an odd turn. No need to impugn our over-worked cops, and Queen Anne slept soundly as before.
Move ahead a bit. A proper Queen Anner sleeping soundly … dreaming … about replacing the patriarchy with a truly inclusive value structure … suddenly he’s awakened by an intruder at the foot of his bed, chef’s knife held high. He reaches for his gun, is sharply reminded that he doesn’t believe in guns … in the ensuing chicken-fight his hands are slashed to filigrees before the attacker calls it a night.
Our homeowner calls 911, provides a quick recap and asks for an ambulance. The operator informs him that it would be simplest if he made his way to “the 7-11 down the street” (the now-infamous store at 5th and Valley), where a meat-wagon was idling. Even a man with mangled hands cannot abide the image of first-responders wolfing down corn-dogs in a 7-11 parking lot, and he had a friend drive him to get sewn up.
This is the part where we impugn our over-worked cops. Next day a pair of bobbies fresh off the Winchell’s drive-thru pay a courtesy call. Facts are made earnest note of and carbon-copied, and the nodding tut-tuts that only hardened beat vets can issue are issued. A week later the guy down at Fort Apache who works the Univac looks over the punch cards and sends a cable: this slasher matter was just a couple doors down from where old McDonald bought the farm. (The gag here would be: “E-I-E-I … D’oh!” But this isn’t funny.) CSI drops by and the hill erupts.
No one responds well to serial killers. But yuppie housewives are particularly ill-designed for that. So there was not much grace or compassion-for-others during the block parties of that season or the building of fortifications. Windows were nailed shut, doors bolstered with chains and charley bars; motion-sensitive dogs of every shape and nature were procured and assigned; Beanie Babies were set aside and replaced, ironically, by insanity. [Anecdote: I had taken in a fine beagle pup that summer, and wished to secure it from its idiot wanderings with a back-yard fence. That requires stabbing stakes into the ground at post points; running out of stakes, I thrust hedge-clippers into the ground as a marker. The police were called.]
Our new night visitor’s reign of terror was at once prolific and a bit of a tease. Entering through unsecured doors or windows, he would creep to the kitchen and have his ravening way with unsecured fruit and the occasional bowl of cereal. After, a digestive stretch on the sofa. Sated, he’d lay out his calling card — an axe or hatchet — then further memorialize his visit with a graffito that read, with a refreshing scorn for subtlety, “the killer is back.” In this way he haunted over a hundred homes that summer, some just like mine. [Actually, mine: around about this time I discovered that someone had gotten into my garage, stolen some old fireworks, dropped off an ice axe. The officer assigned to the crime chortled that I had gotten the better part of the exchange. I still have that ice axe ... it's one of my most treasured possessions. See picture.]
Reigns of terror sputter out, and the Queen Anne Axe Murderer was chased down the street in early September by a peeved homeowner, who snapped away with his Instamatic all the while. Shown the snapshots, we recognized neighborhood loon James Cushing. Bane of The Mecca Tavern (where he communicated with the mother-ship using nothing more than a wire hanger) and Tower Video (he spent hours staring at slasher/splatter video boxes), Cushing was a life-long straight-up street tard with the intellectual capacity, tastes and sensibilities of a 7-year-old, evidently.
At his arraignment, when the judge asked him if he knew where he was and why, Cushing thanked the bailiff for the sandwich.
You can be insane all you want, but if you’re insane enough to chop up an old lady then you’re sane enough to do some pretty mad time, and Cushing was sentenced to life without parole.
Pity the man with the stammer, the rabbit-lip, the cleft or faltering tongue: he cannot have smooth lady-skills. Life-long stumble-mouth James Fiori had no other qualifications to make up for it. Pasty, balding, postal worker, untattooed and not in a band, Fiori had been cursed with an average man’s sex drive, driven by it to ballet lessons, a bowling league, even the grinding indignity of singles clubs, nothing coming of it except perhaps the grim, growing sense of himself as unbecoming.
But there’s always whoring. Alane Alice Scott was born drawn to the bad decision, and in time would amass 28 years of those: drop-out, titty-bar, four children extruded into adoption mills, three years in the stir, no home, no car, a duffel bag full of old letters and make-up, a family who loved her and suffered. Smart and pretty, addicted to heroin and the adrenaline rush of failure, on the evening of July 17, 1993 her appetites and those of James Fiori merged on Aurora Avenue North; they transacted at his south-slope view apartment with $70 mixed into the repast, and there was a rest period.
James Fiori, no arrest history. Talked to himself … never opened the curtains in his south-slope view apartment. He was variously described as diligent, meek, gentle, functional, and (creepiest of all) “avuncular,” but never this way: as a man of broad life experience. At 47 years of age, Fiori didn’t know what the rest of us learn as youngsters, or just know intuitively, the first rule of prostitutes: don’t leave one alone near your pay envelope. So when he, apres-deed, stepped out of the shower to find the young bad-decider rooting around in his pay envelope, he reacted like someone with no experience with that.
(It cannot be emphasized enough: postal worker. Work an assembly line in Detroit, and you can point to a Ford Fiesta and know you had a hand in it. Garbage-men beautify. Social workers socialize. Postal workers [not mailmen, who deliver holiday missives and notices of birth] shunt pieces of paper. Most of which are garbage, to be pulped and repurposed and brought around again to the shunting table. Of course you would become a disgruntled person, easily ruffled. Now back to our story.)
He stabbed her to death, then strangled her. Then he shot her to death with his pistol through a pillow. And into the tub she goes as he gathers his thoughts, the consequence of the moment becoming clear as his pulse becomes measured. And so eventually he would look down at what he had done and realize: she will need to be made more manageable. A neat partitioning? Our protagonist had once been a Navy corpsman, schooled in the dark arts of gore. He finds a cutting tool — an axe, as our story would have it — and has at it. But what Fiori possessed in gore-craft he lacked in the requisite insanity, and after the right arm and head came off his nerve gave out, and he packed all the tragic parts of Ms. Scott into the Ford Fiesta and we head out into the night.
“Naked, Headless Woman’s Body Found in Street.” That’s a headline every copy-editor dreams of writing. A quiet lane up north in hinterland Seattle had gotten out of bed and discovered and had flavored coffee around most of a female torso right there where the kids get picked up. It was pure murder-mystery, a whodunit that would endure for almost twelve hours until some pretty snappy copwork came into play.
Patrolman Lance Ramsay had been care-taking North Seattle the evening of the 18th when he spotted some dodgy driving and made the pull-over. The motorist was “nervous, fidgety, would not look” at the officer. Blood on the hands and the hatchback were explained in terms of fish-cleaning, and in those sweet days pre-9/11 the cop had no legal basis for further inspection. But no reason not to scribble the plate number on the pad.
When word of the body came along, Ramsay passed the info up the line, and detectives dropped by Fiori’s flat over at 518 Prospect (two blocks from the 7-11 referred to in our first story). New to murder, Fiori invited them in. The blood on the carpet, tools and ladies garb was explained as stage blood, then chicken blood, then leftover blood from a blood drive, Fiori crumbling like a spelunker’s nightmare.
He sang his sad song. Then came a citywide scramble to track down the discarded implements and parts. The head and arm had gone into a Green Lake dumpster, from there to a massive land-fill in Oregon; they were never recovered. Fiori got 27 years. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the crime “shocked normally quiet Seattle.”
SUICIDE BY CRACKHEAD
Mike Webb’s life had turned into shit. He’d long had an asshole’s dream job, a talk-radio spot on major player KIRO. Not quite intelligent enough to be a shock-jock, bridling with blazing speed at slights real or imagined, he’d been working the unhinged homosexual angle during graveyard hours to the merriment/incredulity of voyeurs and insomniacs for ten prime-of-life years.
You’d think that would be a lucrative gig. But decoration and upkeep on a north-slope Queen Anne tear-down takes some sweet green. Fortunately the self-appointed populist who had for so many years fought corruption and dishonesty over the airways had done so as a sharp student. To wit: he and his Lexus are smacked at an intersection. Webb has GEICO on speed-dial, makes the call, gets a policy, files a claim next day with a couple of fudged facts. The idea being that GEICO gets a new customer, Webb gets a $6,000 check, everybody wins.
During the trial he took his role as the unhinged radio host into the clean Seattle streets where it didn’t belong, running into traffic during lunch break and threatening jurors with the burden of his suicide if they didn’t accept that the whole misunderstanding was the result of computer error. Lunch was ruined, a mistrial declared. During the second trial, he [This account of Mike Webb's attempt to defraud GEICO has proven to be the most gruesome part of this entire article and I will not describe it further.]
To Mike Webb’s impressive resume we can now add the words “idiot” and “convict.” His lawyer asked for a reduced sentence of 18 months, but the judge laid down the heavy lesson: 240 hours community service! So he not only loses his job shouting on the radio, and sours his relationship with the American Insurance Council, but he would be spending a summer’s worth of weekends down at the soup kitchen slinging tuna casserole to non-celebrities. Life. Turned into. Shit.
Fortunately he had a hobby. It was November of 2006, and crackhead homeless boy Scott White, looking for new opportunities, was taking his constitutional through a lower Queen Anne crack-park when suddenly the clouds parted and there was Webb. An encounter kissed by fortune. You see, the older radio screamer had done his time with substance and recovery, and, thus ennobled, had dedicated his free hours to mentoring young addicts back onto the healthy path, asking nothing in exchange except sodomy. Everybody wins, and Webb moved the promising youngster into his home.
In this season of Mike Webb’s misery the crack-addled lad was a godsend, bringer of comfort and consolation, hope and the insouciance with which only the young are blessed. And Webb, too, had things to offer a young man in need: small appliances, computers, game console, collection of old coins. On April 14 of 2007, Scott Brian White brought Webb to a state of happy exhaustion, feigned a cigarette run, gathered up an axe. For Webb, another type of climax.
His body was bundled up in plastic, crammed into a crawl space, covered with packing boxes. Over the next two months White posed as Webb via text, using the man’s cell to send messages to Webb’s friends and family, each an adventure in bad grammar describing peripatetic travels and quiet time. Seattle PD did their thing, running a cadaver dog through Webb’s home not just once, but — after a neighbor pointed out black flies crowding the inner surface of the windows — a second time, with no result. (Explanation: Webb’s beagle had been diarrheal, and busy people don’t have time to clean, and everything in the air becomes confused, even for a specialty dog. Imagine that smell as you see fit.)
And visualize as best you can White’s cherubic band of crackhead chums, impervious to odor, slipping into the death-house at night to squat, loot, do toilette, spoliating and ruining and practicing the strange rituals of their clan. Two months of fine times, until the landlord chases them off and a cleanup crew makes the find.
Eventually one of White’s circle of junkie ragamuffins turned snitch, strange as that may seem, and the police scooped him up at Queen Anne’s Trolley Hill Park. Legal haggling took forever; on June 3, 2009 White pled guilty; Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell gave him 220 months, with another 24 months added on “for using an axe.”
(This one pre-dates the Internet, and perhaps any record-keeping of any kind, so I look for help to my long-ago conversations with the late/great Russ Zabel of the Queen Anne News, and to my own skills at embellishment.)
A man, his dad and his brother are quaffing at Targy’s, still there at 600 and W. Crockett on the hill. His general drift, getting boring, is, “Gonna kill that bitch. Seriously. Fuckin. Kill bitch.” The others mock him.
Gauntlet thrown! Our man rises from his stool, staggers home, kills his girlfriend with an axe, rolls her up in an area rug, then calls KING-TV with the scoop. Says to meet him at Targy’s; resituated on the stool, he boasts and receives a new round of gibes.
KING asks the police to mediate the matter. They arrive, investigate, hook him up. As he’s led away, he declares, “Wait, we can’t leave. KING-TV is on its way!” True story.
- Mills Rackley