Friday, 8 July 2022

Girl in the picture: Review - one of the most remarkable true crime documentaries you will ever watch

Photo: Netlix

Girl in the picture is one of the most remarkable true crime documentaries you will ever watch. It does something that not all true crime does and brings to life the person who was murdered to such an extent that you almost feel as if they are sitting watching it with you and saying "this is my story."

In this documentary, they speak to the woman's friends and the love and admiration for her shines out in amidst all the darkness of what happened to her. Despite the grim details of her life she was a good friend, vivacious and kind and everyone who met her instantly loved her whether it was at high school, the trailer park where she lived for a time, or the strip joint where she was forced to work by the man who always told her he was her father. 

She was super smart, driven and it was obvious she would have achieved amazing things. Had she lived long enough.

Best thing is you probably won't remember the killer's name

Another thing Girl in the Picture does amazingly well is put the perpetrator very much in the background. This documentary is no glorification or attempt to understand an evil man's actions. It's more a testimony of how a beautiful person inside and out with an intelligent mind, who had a scholarship to one of America's top colleges, was robbed of her future by a paedophile.

A truly shocking tale

The story doesn't seem that unusual when you first hear it. A woman is found seriously wounded after a suspected hit and run. It seems like a straightforward case. But when the police try to identify the woman who later dies of her injuries after battling against the odds to stay alive for 5 days, so begins an investigation with a plot more complex than any crime thriller I have ever read.

The police visit the lady they believe to be this young woman's mother to tell her that her daughter is dead which comes as a surprise. Her daughter died at the age of just 18 months. The woman on the road can't be her daughter so who is she?

And so begins a search for the truth that last for years with so many twists and turns at times you feel giddy. Imagine being the young woman who had to live through that all. And we do. Every vile detail feels like a boot in the gut.

The search reveals some horrifying details of the horrendous cruelties inflicted upon this young woman by a stepfather who abducted her when she was just 5 years old and later kidnapped and murdered her 6-year old son.

Suzanne was adbucted when she was 5

In case you haven't watched the show, I won't give the game away about what transpires. So, no spoiler alerts needed.

Thanks to these dedicated people who stopped at nothing to get to the truth, both law enforcement, jornalists and resaearchers, Suzanne Sevakis finally has her real name on her gravestone. She has people who truly mourn her. Her daughter can visit her mom's grave.

Yet, still you are left reeling with a feeling of deep sadness that this amazing young woman never got to fulfil her potential because of a sick psychopath. 

Girl in the Picture is on Netflix. 

Saturday, 4 June 2022

Making a Murderer - the Night Stalker

Are some people born evil?

The question is often asked whether the monsters who commit evil crimes are the product of nature, i.e they were born that way and nothing could have prevented their evil course, or nurture, i.e their life experiences shaped them into who they were. 

In the case of Richard Ramirez otherwise known as the Night Stalker, the subject of a gripping Netflix documentary outlining how he was caught, it would appear at first that he was born evil incarnate. 

Those who were raped, bludgeoned and stabbed and throttled by one of the most notorious serial killers to have ever scorched this earth, would probably say he was the devil. That the devil came to their homes. 

But on watching the Netflix documentary there were a few throwaway facts about Ramirez that were never fully explored, possibly because no one wanted to make any excuses for such a unapologetically sick killer. 

These facts that would point to Ramirez being the result of nurture, or in his case the lack of any decency in those who should have taken care of him.

Fact 1 - When Ramirez was just 12 years-old, his cousin Miguel (known as Mike) would show him pictures of war crimes he says he committed whilst in the US army. Those pictures are said to have included ones of a dead Vietnamese woman he raped. She'd been decapitated.

Could that be the source of Richard Ramirez's sick compulsion to rape and brutalise not just women but children? 

Could being shown such vile images at a young and impressionable age have led Ramirez to think that sex and violence were intrinsically linked snd resulted in him recreating the kind of brutality and inhumanity his uncle had shown his alleged victims? 

Fact 2 - The very same vile cousin Mike shot his wife in the face and killed her in front of the young Ramirez. 

Again, we have someone young and impressionable seeing someone he looked up to commit cold-blooded murder. A man who would smoke cannabis with the boy. 

Is there a possibility that had he not been shown any photographs or seen his cousin murder his wife, he wouldn't have gone on on to become one of them worst human beings to have ever lived? 

The answers is we will never really know. 

Lessons on breaking into homes 

Fact 3 - After his cousin killed his wife, Ramirez was sent to live with his sister and her husband. Her husband was a peeping tom and used to take Ramirez with him as he peeped on women. 

Is that how the man also known as the Walk-in Killer was able to sneak into his victims homes? Had he not been shown how to creep about undetected by his brother-in-law would he have been able to sneak up on his victims?

The making of a serial killer

If there was ever a set of circumstances that created a serial killer Ramirez's would be almost textbook. And that's before we even looked at his childhood brought up in a home with a violent father.

Whether Ramirez was made and not born a despicable human being, his being dead makes the city he held in the grips of fear, Los Angeles a much safer place. 

Wednesday, 1 June 2022

Thanks to Kim Basinger people know the truth about my agoraphobia

The actress recently revealed she has agoraphobia

‘Why do you have to be like this - you know you're just making things difficult for yourself?’

As someone with agoraphobia, I have heard that a lot. There's a misconception amongst some people - not everyone - that a phobia is just something you can easily get over. Just try facing up to your fear/s by doing some anti-sensitivity training. Force yourself to face up to whatever it is you fear whether that's spiders, heights, or in my case the fear of open spaces and people. Then your phobia will be gone. 

If only it were that easy. 

It seems that sometimes the only time some people acknowledge that you have a genuine health problem is when a celebrity has the same thing. In my case, Kim Basinger's recent revelation that she suffers from agoraphobia has shone the light on a condition that so many people have in the UK. According to the NHS, 2% of people in the UK have a panic disorder with a third of them having agoraphobia. 

When I was growing up in the 80s (I'm showing my age now) Kim Basinger was one of the best-known actresses. She was beautiful and had an amazing smile and a lot of women wanted to have hair like her. 

In recent years, she disappeared from public view. I thought she'd chosen to take time away from acting or had been the victim of Hollywood's ageism where leading men get to age whilst the women they star opposite get younger. I had no idea that this beautiful, outwardly self-confident woman had something in common with little old me, namely that she has agoraphobia.

That wasn't until recently when she appeared on Jada Pinkett's Red Table Talk with her daughter Ireland Baldwin to talk about the anxiety that left her struggling to leave her home. I found myself for the very first time in my life identifying with a beautiful Hollywood actress as she spoke about the paralysing anxiety.

I'm not a movie star (I wish) but I know exactly what she's going through. For over 20-years I have also suffered from agoraphobia and anxiety. I can leave my house but only if accompanied by other people or my rescue dog Harley, a huge goofy hound who is my untrained therapy dog. 

My therapy dog

On the very rare occasions I do try to venture out alone I am struck by a paralysing fear that sends me spiralling and I have to get home. I struggle to breathe and feel as if I'm having an asthma attack that no medication can help with. My heart is pounding and my chest feels fit to burst. A friend who witnessed this once thought I was having the worst panic attack should have ever seen. She was so worried she wanted to call an ambulance. 

Basinger says her anxiety was triggered when she visited a health food store in California and was overcome by overwhelming anxiety that caused her to flee the store. 

What started it all

In my case, I know exactly what the trigger was but not when - the bullying I suffered at school and home during my teenage years. Unlike the Oscar-winning actress, I can't pinpoint one single event that caused it, just a multiple series of events that eroded my confidence and feeling of self-worth. I became scared to go out. 

Agoraphobia is much misunderstood. I've had some people tell me I should just pull myself together as if I have chosen to be this way. Relatives have also told me just to dope myself up with medication so I can attend family events. Again, they don't understand. It's not as if I don't want to go out, it's that I can't. 

I have tried therapy, both cognitive-behavioural research and hypnotherapy (I wasn't very good at getting hypnotised apparently), meditation and reading various self-help books but nothing has helped. I can also confirm that the drugs don't work - at least for me. I've been on various medications for years and there's no change. 

For me, the cognitive behavioural therapy that seems to be successful with lots of other people, actually made my condition worse. Before CBT, I'd had OCD and hypervigilance as part of the side effects of my agoraphobia.  After having the cognitive behavioural therapy, they were worse. Like they were on steroids. 

When I had the honour of having the book launch for what was then my first novel Vile City, the first book in my Detective in a Coma series at the architecturally stunning Waterstones store in Glasgow Argyle Street, I couldn't even enjoy my big night. My doctor had given me tranquillizers and anti-anxiety medication but my nerves were still shot. During what should have been a night of celebration I just felt terrified and wanted to go home. I was constantly in the grip of panic. 

I won a novel writing award but couldn't go to collect my trophy

A few years before that when I won an award for my first crime novel, I couldn't even attend the prize-winning ceremony. Agoraphobia made me a prisoner in my own home and continues to do so. The late great Alanna Knight was going to hand me the prize that night but even knowing that wasn't enough to get rid of the black cloud that was hanging over me. I couldn't attend. 

‘What were you like before you had this wrong with you’ one of my writing friends online recently asked. I honestly don't know because it was so long ago. With something like agoraphobia, once it gets its tentacles on you, it's hard to get it to let go. 

As for the future who knows. It isn't as if I can just snap out of this as it’s a family member once said. If only it were that easy. But at least thanks to a certain actress family and friends know what a struggle things are for me. 

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