A few years ago, I was waiting for a potential buyer of a home that my employer was building inside a sprawling new community in Ontario, California. Everything about the home was perfect, except the smell. No, the stench.
Back then, new home builders were buying up gobs of land from dairy farmers who were either going out of business or moving up north. One still operated close to the neighborhood I was selling and, depending on how the wind blew, breathing came with consequences.
When the wind blew just right, it pushed the putrid stench of fetid cow dung up your nostrils so deep that you could almost taste it at the back of your throat. The unbearable stench, usually partnered with a swarm of flies, brought tears to your eyes.
When my customer arrived, the wind blew “perfectly” – the stench came, then the flies, and instinctively, I winced as any normal human being would. But shockingly, my customer took a deep breath.
“I know this sounds crazy,” the burly man said, “but I love that smell. I grew up around this stuff not too far from here, and it reminds me of my childhood.”
I get the concept, but I never understood how the unbearable, rotten stench of cow dung brought a smile to his face. For him, it was normal.
He gladly bought the home, not only for the aroma, but because it was close to work. It just so happened that he worked for years at the California Institution for Women in nearby Chino, an environment polluted by a different kind of stench – notorious killers.
Among them: Betty Broderick, the remorseless socialite who murdered her ex-husband and his new wife in 1989; Theresa Knorr, guilty of multiple murders where she used torture; Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, who ruthlessly murdered under the spell of drugs and Charles Manson; convicted serial killer Dorothea Puente served time there; and Julia Rodriquez Diaz, who murdered 7-year-old Javier Angel in 1979.
He couldn’t share much, but I always left our prison conversations with the sense that he, like a mortician, had become coarsened by his constant exposure to cold-blooded killers – to even see them as normal human beings.
I got a glimpse of just how easy that might be while watching a documentary about prison life. There were no professional voiceovers or reporters asking "60 Minute"-like questions. The film just showed prisoners – the worst of the worst – telling their stories with a camera following as they lived prison life.
One segment featured a Hispanic man, perhaps in his 30s, writing a letter to his son that you could hear him reading in a voiceover. Two sentences in, this menacing, tattooed former gang member, cried like a child.
“I love my son,” he struggled to mutter between uncontrollable sobs. “But I’m a bad father.”
You got the feeling that this man genuinely realized, perhaps for the first time, that his son was forced to bear the burden of his horrific decisions. Fatherlessness would be normal. It was impossible, through letters, to fill that void. So he cried.
You almost pitied the man were it not for the fact the he murdered someone’s son. These people loved their son, too. We focus so much on justice for the criminal, these days, that we lose sight of justice for the victim.
There was, apparently, plenty of pity for ex-Mason Family member Patricia Krenwinkel, now 74, who a California parole board, last week, recommended for parole. In the same year that fellow Manson cult member Susan Atkins died, Krenwinkel was featured on a local news program for her work in helping to train service dogs (“Prison Pups”) to assist the disabled.
“It gives you a reason to wake every morning,” Krenwinkel said, looking like a harmless grandmother. “I can’t change my past. I can’t change anything that happened yesterday. Doing what I do with this old dog … that dog can carry and make somebody’s future different and better and wonderful.”
Seeing Krenwinkel tear up as her service dog helps a wheelchair-bound boy, it’s almost impossible to see the woman charged with seven counts of murder in the 1969 Tate-LaBianca killing spree. Krenwinkel stabbed Abigail Folger 28 times.
“I stabbed her, and I kept stabbing her,” Krenwinkel said at the time. When asked what she felt while stabbing Folger, she said, “Nothing. I mean, what is there to describe? It was just there, and it was right.”
After helping to kill Leno and Rosemary LaBianca the next day, it was Krenwinkel who stabbed Leno in the stomach with a fork and used a rag to write on the walls with his blood, “Helter Skelter”, “Rise,” and “Death to Pigs.”
“We still suffer our loss,” daughter Cory LaBianca said in a rare 2016 interview when cult member Leslie Van Houten was up for parole. “The least we can do, for someone who commits a crime against another human being is to keep them in jail.
“He (her father) didn’t get to live his [life], and I’ll live it for him,” she said, acknowledging how the murders linger as her grandson asked how her father died. “How do you answer that to a 6-year-old? It doesn’t end. This doesn’t end.”
Victims are the whole point of justice, especially when it comes to murder. In cases where evidence leaves no doubt about the killer, we should impose the death penalty with certainty, and as swiftly as humanly possible. Not for revenge, but justice – a justice that says that life is so valuable that if you take a life, you lose yours. Not to do so cheapens human life.
There is no greater stench in human life than murder, but in the name of a godless social justice, the putrid stench of fetid killing is something we’re all being forced to breathe in.
As we see a rise in violence – especially calculated, cold-blooded murder – since the rise of the Defund the Police movement after George Floyd’s death, the riotous BLM “Pigs in a Blanket” movement, and the relentless disregard for the rule of law and law enforcement, we need to remember that our children are watching.
They’re growing up breathing in years of lawless stench that’s insidiously becoming the baseline for what they see as normal.
It’s strange, but harmless that the stench of cow dung can bring a smile to your face if you “grew around this stuff.” But a society that allows a constant stench of violence, killing and law-breaking to linger when the political winds shift, as we are doing, shouldn’t be surprised at the mayhem that crops up from a generation of children who’ve been forced to grow up around this stuff. Insidiously, it’s becoming their baseline for normal.