R. Barri Flowers tackled a bizarre type of murder for his book The Sex Slave Murders: The Horrifying True Story of America's First Husband-and-Wife Serial Killers. Bluntly titled, it's sold out seven printings -- and the author, years after its publication, still fields requests to appear on camera to discuss the extremely strange and thankfully rare form of homicides committed by Gerald and Charlene Gallego.
This author's pen is rarely still; he has written many books of true crime and criminology, along with genre fiction, and has several more at different stages. Recently I had the chance to chat up Barri about the Gallego case, the documentaries, and the best true crime literature of all time. Here is our Q&A.
Q: That must have been one tough case to study.
A: Indeed, it was a difficult case to write about. The nature of the crimes--abduction, sexual assault, and violent murders---would be tough for anyone to stomach. In their sexually motivated murders, Gerald and Charlene Gallego took the lives of ten people, including nine women, one of whom, was four months pregnant.
The Gallegos turned sexual fantasies into real life rape-homicides afaccross three Western states--California, Nevada, and Oregon--during the late 1970s and 1980--before their reign of terror came to an end.
As a criminologist who had written a number of nonfiction books on violent, sex male, and female offenders, I felt compelled to write about this case due to its unusual nature, involving husband-wife serial killers. Thus was born, THE SEX SLAVE MURDERS, which was published by St. Martin's Press in 1996 and excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine the following year.
It became a bestseller and only recently went out of print after seven printings. However, the book and subject matter has seen a resurgence in popularity this year and there is now interest from a number of publishers in reprinting THE SEX SLAVE MURDERS.
Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing your book?
A: Perhaps the most surprising thing I discovered was that Charlene Gallego served so little time, relatively speaking, for her role in the sexual murders of ten people.
She lured most of the victims to Gerald by charming teenage girls and young women into believing they were headed out to parking lots to pass out flyers or smoke marijuana, only to find the gun-wielding Gerald waiting for them in a van.
Yet because of a plea bargain in which Charlene became the State's star witness in testifying against Gerald, she served less than seventeen years behind bars.
Hard to imagine this being the case were she directly involved in ten brutal murders today.
Another somewhat surprising thing was that it took two and a half years and a number of missed opportunities before the Gallegos were finally brought to justice. The fact that they operated as a couple compared to most serial killers who go it alone and therefore can evade the authorities more easily, would have seemed to work against them in remaining at large and for the most part, unknown as a killer pair by authorities for this length of time.
To be sure, the Gallegos benefited from perpetrating their crimes at a time when security cameras, cell phone cameras, DNA, the Internet, and other reliable ways of identifying criminal suspects were in their infancy.
The same is true for many other killers from the last century prior to the 1990s. A number of these, including serial killers and mass murderers, I examine in my true crime reference book, MURDERS IN THE UNITED STATES: Crimes, Killers and Victims of the Twentieth Century (McFarland, 2004).
Q: And what was your recent TV experience like -- do you think Investigation Discovery did a good job on the documentary about such a terrible series of crimes?
A: Actually I have done two TV interviews this year in relation to THE SEX SLAVE MURDERS and Gallegos.
The first was in May on the Biography Channel's series, Crime Stories. The episode, entitled, "The Love Slave Murders." It is now on DVD and available through the production company, Partners in Motion. The episode can also be seen via the Internet on Factual TV.
My second interview will be shown on Investigation Discovery channel's new series on killer couples, Wicked Attraction. The episode, entitled, "Twisted Twosome," will debut on 9/11 at 9 p.m., EST, and be shown several other times in the weeks to follow. Coincidentally, and perhaps eerily, the Gallegos abducted and murdered their first two teenage victims on September 11th, 1978.
Both interviews were an interesting experience. The production crews were professional and knew their stuff. The directors definitely came prepared and, in spite of the violent nature of the crimes, were strictly business in doing their job. I was surprised that both interviews took around five hours to complete (I was told on phone in each case that it would take half the time) with plenty of questions being thrown at me and additional time spent on the background set up, angles, and such.
Unfortunately, much of the footage never reaches the TV screen for an hour episode that includes other interviews and reenactments. The Investigation Discovery channel interview was shot in HDTV, so I will have to see if it really makes a difference in presentation at the end of the day.
Q: And what parallels did you see between Gerald Gallego and his father?
A: Gerald's father, Gerald Albert Gallego, was a convicted murderer of two lawmen and sentenced to death. In 1955, he became the first man to die in Mississippi's new gas chamber. As Gerald Gallego and his father were both killers, a few criminologists have used a bad seed theory to explain Gerald's homicidal tendencies.
This theory suggests that some people are biologically predisposed to acts of homicidal violence--or born killers. While some research supports a correlation between heredity and criminality, I believe that most criminality is learned behavior through criminal contacts.
In Gerald's case, he certainly was a rotten apple from a bad tree, but he used his free will to decide to become a cold blooded killer. The same is true of Charlene. She came from a privileged background where everything was handed to her, but still chose to give it all up for a life of substance abuse, kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder with Gerald.
She pretty much debunks most theories that posit violent criminals are typically a product of abusive or violent homes or other victimization that stacks the deck against them in leading a normal life as law acing citizens.
Q: Do you read a lot of true crime stories?
A: As very busy author, I have little time to read much these days. When I do read books, I tend to prefer good mystery or thriller novels, favoring fictional material over real life crime stories. That said, I have read some great true crime books over the years, which leads right to the next question.
Q: Who are your favorite authors / titles?
A: My favorite true crime books/authors are:
IN COLD BLOOD -- Truman Capote
HELTER SKELTER -- Vincent Bugliosi
FATAL VISION -- Joe McGinniss
JACK THE RIPPER: THE DEFINITIVE HISTORY -- Paul Begg
As a mystery novelist also (STATE'S EVIDENCE, JUSTICE SERVED) , some of my favorite mystery writers are Agatha Christie, Robert Ludlum, Nelson Demille, James Patterson, and Catherine Coulter.
Q: Anything new coming out?
A: I have two books coming out this fall that examine facts, figures, and theories behind female and adolescent criminal behavior: FEMALE CRIME, CRIMINALS AND CELLMATES (McFarland, 20008) and THE ADOLESCENT CRIMINAL (McFarland, 2008).
In the summer of 2009, my criminology book, CAMPUS CRIME, will be released from McFarland.
I am also researching a couple of new true crime projects.
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