Editors' Notes

Maria Damon and Michelle Greenblatt
Jim Leftwich and Michelle Greenblatt
Sheila E. Murphy and Michelle Greenblatt

A Visual Conversation on Michelle Greenblatt's ASHES AND SEEDS with Stephen Harrison, Monika Mori | MOO, Jonathan Penton and Michelle Greenblatt

Letters for Michelle: with work by Jukka-Pekka Kervinen, Jeffrey Side, Larry Goodell, mark hartenbach, Charles J. Butler, Alexandria Bryan and Brian Kovich

Visual Poetry by Reed Altemus
Poetry by Glen Armstrong
Poetry by Lana Bella
A Eulogic Poem by John M. Bennett
Elegic Poetry by John M. Bennett
Poetry by Wendy Taylor Carlisle
A Eulogy by Vincent A. Cellucci
Poetry by Vincent A. Cellucci
Poetry by Joel Chace
A Spoken Word Poem and Visual Art by K.R. Copeland
A Eulogy by Alan Fyfe
Poetry by Win Harms
Poetry by Carolyn Hembree
Poetry by Cindy Hochman
A Eulogy by Steffen Horstmann
A Eulogic Poem by Dylan Krieger
An Elegic Poem by Dylan Krieger
Visual Art by Donna Kuhn
Poetry by Louise Landes Levi
Poetry by Jim Lineberger
Poetry by Dennis Mahagin
Poetry by Peter Marra
A Eulogy by Frankie Metro
A Song by Alexis Moon and Jonathan Penton
Poetry by Jay Passer
A Eulogy by Jonathan Penton
Visual Poetry by Anne Elezabeth Pluto and Bryson Dean-Gauthier
Visual Art by Marthe Reed
A Eulogy by Gabriel Ricard
Poetry by Alison Ross
A Short Movie by Bernd Sauermann
Poetry by Christopher Shipman
A Spoken Word Poem by Larissa Shmailo
A Eulogic Poem by Jay Sizemore
Elegic Poetry by Jay Sizemore
Poetry by Felino A. Soriano
Visual Art by Jamie Stoneman
Poetry by Ray Succre
Poetry by Yuriy Tarnawsky
A Song by Marc Vincenz

Join our Facebook group!

Join our mailing list!

The Disabled Temporarily Enabled Enough to Kill: High-stakes, Low-brow, Lite-beer Shakespeare
by bart plantenga

1. He Says God Told Him to Kill Mom & Sister

click to enlargeI've been carrying around this article since the 1980s. Used to read it to myself, out loud, to others in bars, in the office where I worked. The mere recitation was supposed to offer us insight. I would laugh and others might follow but no one seemed to think it as strange, unlikely, sick, ironic, weird as I did. And, now that I think about it, that is pretty weird.

I photocopied it, enlarged it, eventually glued it to one of my girlfriend's abstract patterns she hoped would one day sell as a fabric design. And since then, every few years I run across the two articles and I read them aloud to see whether they still haunt me or now amuse me, having absorbed so much worse over time. I stuck this one and the one described below back-to-back in a plastic sleeve. Over the years, I have re-catalogued them in various theme three-ring binders including "weird stories" and currently "1984—1986."

My original fascination with these sorts of crime stories came from reading my father's secret [but not locked away like his few, quite almost-innocent-seeming girlie magazines] when I was not yet 11. You know the kind; I think one was called Inside Detective with lurid covers featuring comely women with large lips and pointy breasts about to become the victims of manly beasts; stories about strippers and housewives with odd bouffant decapitated under sordid circumstances — sex, sin, and paranoia set in a washed-out, black-&-white suburban backdrop of sad split-levels in non-towns you never heard of. Lurid out-of-focus photos depicting normal neighborhoods — aluminum siding, oscillating wave sprinkler in the front yard, the kind we used to leap through on July 20th — all reinforcing Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil" in the trunk of a late-60s Chevy Chevelle [body parts in dry-cleaning bags].

Here is the story:

LINCOLN, Neb. — A deaf mute on trial for the murder of his mother and his sister, both topless dancers, used sign language yesterday to tell a jury that he had a long argument with someone claiming to be God before stabbing them to death.
James Curtright 21, who has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity, said his mind told him, "I'm God. Do you believe me? Kill the devil!
"My feelings said, 'No, don't kill. It's wrong to kill.'" Curtright said he now believes it was Satan, claiming to be God, who told him to kill them.
He said he disapproved of the life style of his mother, Lucille, 48, and sister Pamela, 22. He said, he killed them April 23, 1985, after learning that his sister had an abortion when she was 17 after her mother forced her to have sex with a man in exchange for a microwave oven."

In his book Headless Man in Topless Bar, detailing 245 cases involving strippers or strip clubs, T.A. Kevlin describes how James left a note behind near his sister's body: "God ... ordered me to kill the Satan's children and then God takes my whole guilty [sic] ... I never knew my sister and mother belong to the Satan so I have had to kill them ..." [some grammatical errors attributable to Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD)].

Kevlin describes how Curtright first stabbed his mother to death in her home, then went to his sister's place where he stabbed her to death. He then walked downtown to Lincoln's police station, covered in blood, carrying sister Pamela's unharmed baby in his arms. There are countless interesting details, but the two most interesting are no doubt a "deaf mute" who hears voices. Did anyone ask him what these voices sounded like? How would he "describe" these sounds in sign language if he has never heard anyone speaking?

Another interesting detail is James' mother, married six times and danced in strip clubs her entire adult life, who once sold her daughter's body for a microwave oven. No fiction writer including Elmore Leonard or Stephen King or even Céline could ever top such a desperate, cynical, hopeless, crass detail as the exchange of your own daughter's body for a consumer good of such mundane value.

Before the trial, Curtright was reportedly euphoric, presumably believing he had done the right thing. But as the trial progressed, he became increasingly depressed and suicidal. He demanded to be executed for his crimes until mid-trial, when he suddenly changed his mind and began insisting he had been misled by Satan. In any case, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. But, local reaction, contrary to the national trend of lynch mob retribution, Curtright gained much sympathy from the townspeople, with some even offering their support; this in a town that Kevlin described as having a church to strip club ratio of 163 to 1. Sympathy arose not only because he was disabled, had fallen through the cracks and never had a chance but also because he once visited his mom at work and was so shocked it apparently triggered his Satanic reaction.

What I never quite understand about these kinds of cases involving Satan misleading someone is God's apparent apathy, his total lack of motivation — or powerlessness? — to intercede on any level to just whisper in the perp's ear, set the record straight and prevent a senseless killing. What kind of God would let Satan so effortlessly lead someone astray down this evil path?

The State Supreme Court report document of his 2002 appeal includes his May 7, 1986 letter to the prosecutors: "I hope you will work hard to get a judge put me on death penalty because I believe I deserve to have one, won't you?" In a letter to the trial judge shortly thereafter, he wrote: "You have the two choices: grant my wish on a death penalty or you will get my appeal. Please think of 2 women was stabbed to die, therefore; you should put me to death." In a letter from Curtright to trial counsel dated July 20, 1986: "I'll not be sorry what I decided. I trust God's will more than myself."

Click to Continue