Old Man, Dark Heart

Serial killers age. They turn into old men. Though that fact may seem obvious, most of us probably conjure the infamous Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer, both of whom were around age thirty when they were apprehended. But within the last few years, with the advent of forensic genealogy, there’s been an uptick in the number of elderly men arrested for serial murders and sexual assaults that had long gone cold.

The most famous of these is Joseph DeAngelo, also known as the Golden State Killer, who committed at least thirteen murders, more than fifty rapes, and numerous burglaries in California between 1974 and 1986. DeAngelo was arrested in 2018, at the ripe old age of seventy-two. He was wheeled into the courtroom to face his charges in a wheelchair, which authorities deemed a ploy to play on our sympathies. DeAngelo’s crimes are chronicled in the fantastic book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, by the late Michelle McNamara. Her final chapter, “Letter to an Old Man,” is haunting, particularly as it was written before DeAngelo was caught.

Earlier this summer, seventy-nine-year-old, Samuel Little, confessed to more than ninety murders, making him the most prolific serial killer in history. A shoplifter by day, Little targeted prostitutes, drug addicts, and homeless women by night, women he believed no one would miss. Little was arrested on drug charges in 2012, and his DNA proved a match to three unsolved murders in the 1980s. No different than many men his age, he is ill with diabetes and heart disease, his hair gray and his face wrinkled. But chillingly, according to authorities, Little strangled his victims and even targeted women with a certain neck types.

Most recently, in early July 2019, Mark Manteuffel, age fifty-nine, was arrested on multiple charges of rape, torture, and other crimes which were committed in the Sacramento area between 1992 and 1994. Like DeAngelo, Manteuffel had a background in law enforcement, having worked for decades in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and retiring in 2014 as an administer of a Florida correctional facility. A combination of DNA testing and genetic profiling led to his arrest.

Whenever one of these cases hits the news, I’m reminded of the life term inmates I evaluate every month for the parole board, as a good portion of them are over the age of sixty. As a part of California state law, we are required to consider advancing age, diminished physical condition, and the impact of long-term incarceration in our violence risk assessments. Many lifers have significant health issues; some are wheelchair or bed bound; others can no longer remember why they are incarcerated. There’s a striking difference between the frail, liver-spotted body who sits before me and the strapping young man who took a life. And it seems wrong somehow to demand the same kind of punishment for the aged.

But for serial murderers, justice has no time clock. Because somewhere deep inside, under wrinkles and white hair and papery skin, is a dark heart and a wicked mind that never, ever grows old.

July 5, 2019

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