Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Why I write to prisoners: An author’s correspondence with notable inmates

Lynette Fromme. Police photo.

Lynnette Fromme was quoted in a website as remarking, “Women bitch and holler to the contrary but the truth is that we are living in a matriarchy and have been for many, many years.”

At the time I read this, I had not yet read Warren Farrell’s The Myth of Male Power and been strongly influenced by it. I held the common perception that since men were the majority seen in formal power, the cliché that “it’s a man’s world,” or in more sophisticated lingo, a “patriarchy,” was correct.

I wrote to Fromme asking why she believed we live in a matriarchy. She mailed me a large postcard on which she asserted, “Societies are created for the females. What we got we made (in large part). The feminist movement is legitimate in wanting change and balance but is naturally off balance in treating males as if they were not parts of women.” She elaborated, “Women have always directed social behavior.” She signed her letter, “Lynette” so I began calling her by her first name.

I was impressed that Lynette, so often dismissed as a nut, replied in such a reasonable manner. I mailed a letter requesting a fuller explanation of her views regarding our “matriarchy.” When I wrote the second letter, I included some of the ecologically oriented materials previously mentioned.

I received a lengthier letter from her. She contended, “Men range and explore. Women range and explore until they become pregnant. Pregnancy dictates certain behaviors.” She elaborates, “churches and laws and police and courts and jails were created for the maternal needs of women (and children).”

Lynette also commented on the Gorilla issues I had sent. She said, “I tried to follow [Koko’s] progress before but these magazines tell me a lot.” She related that she was initially “tickled and excited” about ape language experiments. However, Lynette later had reservations about them because she concluded they would have “little benefit” for the species as whole and that it is a “disservice to the gorilla” to treat them like human children.

Eric Rudolph. Police photo.

In two other cases, I wrote inmates to request to use their work in a project. The project is entitled Murderesses as Poets and has not yet found a publisher.

Patricia Krenwinkel, a Manson associate who participated in both the Tate and LaBianca murders, published several poems in an anthology of writings by inmates called Prose and Cons. I was very impressed by the quality of her poems and wanted to include them in my own collection.

I wrote Krenwinkel asking permission to republish her poems. I received a letter from her attorney stating, “At this time, she does not want to have her poems republished.”

I also wanted to include a poem I first read in The New York Times by Renee Nicely, a young mother convicted of murder in the beating death of her son, three-year-old Shawn Nicely. The boy’s father, Allen Bass, had been convicted of manslaughter for his part in Shawn’s killing.

The poignant poem read in part: “I wish I knew who he was because his life was so dim. . . The things I used to do to him,/Tell me why? I don’t know.” It ended, “I wish it was me killed on that Sunday.”

My first letter to Nicely sought permission to republish her poem. She wrote back granting permission and discussing her life. She also sent other poems. Her letters and poems were heartrending as they seemed to grope to make sense out of her son’s tragic death.

In her letters, she insisted that Allen Bass had beaten Shawn to death. However, she acknowledged cruelly mistreating her son and that she bore both moral and legal responsibility for his death.

Recently, I sent a copy of the article on this website about Olympic Park bomber Eric Robert Rudolph to him.

I received a brief reply from him. The letter left off the usual polite salutation “Dear” and began “Denise Noe.” However, the body of the letter was courteous, penned in printed characters that were legible although not attractive like those of Carlton Michael Gary. (Carlton Michael Gary’s letters to Denise Noe may be found here.) Rudolph commented that the articles “contain the standard narrative, as told by the government and media.” He continued that a more “complete narrative” will be expressed in the memoirs he is presently writing and should soon finish. He ended his letter “Sincerely, E.”

I have already mailed him another letter in which I ask for specifics as to what is missing from the “standard narrative.” I look forward to reading his next letter to me.

In corresponding with prisoners, I have found that they can be surprisingly “ordinary.” The first postcard I received from the notorious Charles Manson had my address and the return address written in pen. The brief message on the other side had a word in pen and the rest in pencil. Part of the penciled message explained, “I’m out of ink.”

Someone aware of Manson’s reputation for mystical thinking might try to ferret a hidden meaning out of the switch from pen to pencil.

I think he just ran out of ink.

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