This week I diverge a little bit from my usual blog style to talk about the monster that invaded my backyard back in 1983. My home being, of course, Omaha, Nebraska. My backyard, naturally, is Bellevue, Nebraska. The very real monster that slipped silently into Bellevue in the fall of 1983 came from Maine, where ironically to this day Stephen King sits at a computer day in and day out and writes about monsters. His monsters have teeth. So did mine. He used them on his victims, and then took a knife and cut away the evidence.
The monster’s name was John Joubert.
I was 14 at the time, just getting ready to start high school. Joubert was 19 years old and was an enlisted member of Offutt Air Force base in Bellevue. In the year before Joubert came to Nebraska…before he settled in to my back yard… he had killed a boy in Portland Maine. He wasn’t under suspicion. In fact, someone else was. Probably would have been charged too if the Portland police hadn’t heard about two boys who had been abducted and killed in an eerily similar fashion as their own homicide in Nebraska.
The first abduction came in September of 1983. Danny Jo Eberly was abducted while delivering newspapers. This brought a heightened sense of panic – a year before Johnny Gosch had been abducted while delivering newspapers. Speculation arose that it was the same person. It wasn’t. Johnny Gosch has not been found. Danny Jo was found dead three days later in a desolate location just a few miles from where his delivery bike was found.
Three months later the monster in my back yard struck again – this time, 12-year-old Christopher Walden was abducted and murdered.
For 116 days law enforcement hunted for the serial killer who bit his victims multiple times, and then cut out the bite marks with a knife so as not to be identified by the teeth marks.
Eventually the monster was captured, tried, convicted and sentenced to death. He died in the electric chair in 1996. For a while we could go back to sleep.
But monsters continue to lurk. And, unlike the monsters that people like Wes Craven bring to life on screen, these killers wear masks that don’t make them stand out from a crowd like The Shape or Jason, but rather blend into it. Ted Bundy was a handsome guy who lured his victims by playing a victim himself – he wore a sling and carried books that he dropped. And then he would ask innocent, unsuspecting women to help him carry his books to his car.
Wayne Williams killed a number of children in the late 70s / early 80s in Atlanta. Dennis Rader, the “BTK” Killer, terrorized Wichita for two decades. He was married and had children. John Wayne Gacy dressed as a clown for parties.
We go to horror movies to get scared, to cheer at the unique ways in which writers come up with dispatching of victims (and believe me there are some ingenious ways). But there is a segment of the population that will never watch horror films because they hit too close to home. They know victims of serial killers. They know serial killers themselves. They date them, marry them. The killers who lead double lives are more scary than anything that can be conjured on a screen. They are real. They are out there, lurking.
Joubert wasn’t the first in Nebraska. That distinction belongs to Charles Starkweather. He wasn’t the last. The bastard who committed the Von Maur shootings has that distinction.
Monsters lurk everywhere. Even in our own backyards. God help us when they decide to feed.