I've been watching you," is a scary thing to hear. That's the premise that authors Susan Mustafa and Tony Clayton present in their true-crime book so titled. Their story is about Louisiana's most prolific serial killer, Derrick Todd Lee, whose crime spree escalated from peeping at and stalking women to murderous rage in the Baton Rouge area and parts of south Louisiana.
"On November 5, 1968, deep in the heart of bayou country, a monster was born," is their introduction of Lee, known as Todd, now a convicted killer. He has been linked to seven murders through DNA and is strongly suspected in at least four others, maybe more. (Mari Ann Fowler, wife of former Elections Commissioner Jerry Fowler, disappeared under very suspicious circumstances in 2002 and is considered another possible victim.)
The book tells a complete and compelling story of murder by offering the backgrounds of victims as well as their killer in equal measures of drama. The authors, with writer Sue Israel, have taken a long, hard look at Todd Lee, a seemingly likable black kid who grew up to fancy designer jeans and gold chains and to nourish an uncontrollable lust for women. It was a succession of women, mostly white, who were spied on with deliberate intent and subsequently killed horrendously by Todd Lee.
It was women like Gina Wilson Green -- 39 years old, "still pretty with silky brown hair and a stunning smile" and living in a pretty bungalow in Baton Rouge -- who caught his dark attention. Todd Lee "stood very still" and waited outside her window.
There was Trineisha Dene Colomb, who had not been very concerned about the serial killer because the man they talked about on the news "only went after white women." Colomb was black. Her body was found face down in a pool of blood with nine head wounds.
The writers don't try to soften the graphic particulars of the murderous path taken by the killer, who was considered mildly retarded yet managed to elude capture and identity for years -- a curious fact that remains something of a puzzle. For example, a young female victim whom he had attacked identified him in a lineup, yet nothing was done. In addition, many law enforcement officers cast a suspicious eye his way but were unable to nail him.
Another tragic paradox about this case was the number of times Derrick Todd Lee was in the clutches of the justice system but was nonetheless allowed "to wander about south Louisiana searching for pretty women." Short stretches in jail and suspended sentences were a part of his criminal history.
A particularly poignant chapter tells the story of Pam Kinamore, a woman who brought a happy, upbeat swing to her life and who felt herself lucky -- until she heard "the sound of someone coming into the bedroom." She had left her keys in the door. "This is going to be easy" was the killer's thought, as told by the writers.
The writers make many assumptions about situations, thoughts, moods and dialogue, but those assumptions are acceptable given the "you are there" style of the book. A typical example is the attribution of the thought, "This is going to be easy," to the killer. Did he say that, or think it -- or has it been presumed that he did? Even today, Todd Lee remains tight-lipped about the crimes for which he has been convicted. Thus, a host of intimacies from the victims may or may not be literary speculation, but they bring a heart-rending touch to the telling of this chilling tale.
Ultimately, Derrick Todd Lee was nailed by DNA evidence that co-author Tony Clayton, a special prosecutor in West Baton Rouge Parish, presented to jurors after he got the call for the first case to be tried. He had a special interest in the murder of Geralyn Barr DeSoio. Clayton "had ridden his bicycle down the same road that Todd Lee went looking for victims."
In the Tourist Information Center in Port Allen (the parish courthouse was too small), Derrick Todd Lee -- "seemingly unconcerned with his fate, moved between politeness and unexpected outbursts" -- was finally brought to justice and received the death penalty.
Ever-present in this tale is the terrible thought that so many women might have been spared had Derrick Todd Lee been identified and caught when he first showed signs of his aberrant behavior. He wasn't, and consequently he cut a huge, murderous swath -- unchecked for years -- across south Louisiana. Too much time elapsed because of mistaken identities and theories, such as one that pegged the killer as a white male. The authors make no indictment against police detectives, but the facts speak for themselves.
I've Been Watching You is a good read. It is also scary -- even unnerving at times -- but true crime stories almost have to be that way to be told effectively. Signing and discussion by the authors
Noon, Saturday, June 17
Barnes and Noble, 3721 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 455-4929
- Tony Clayton, a special prosecutor in West Baton Rouge Parish who presented damning evidence against Derrick Todd Lee to the jury that convicted him, and co-authors Susan D. Mustafa and Sue Israel