I recently asked readers which Indiana stories they’d like us to cover for future article. Among the requests were several asking me to research and write about serial killers from Indiana. Believe it or not, we have several, and there’s little shortage of story there. But I politely refused, and I’d like to take a moment to explain why.
I once met a serial killer.
I met him in 2000 or 2001 while I worked in a small meat market in Northwest Indiana and attended Purdue Calumet (now Purdue Northwest) in Hammond. I was either 20 or 21. It was a weekend lunch rush on a Saturday, and several workers hopped from customer to customer in the small meat market, mostly filling orders for sausage sandwiches, our specialty.
I didn’t notice him until calling out “Who’s next?” and seeing him wave at me as he stepped to the counter. A middle-aged man of average height and short hair (in his mug shot his short hair had grown out), the guy smiled at me and ordered.
His eyes fell on mine, then scanned the menu on the wall, then came back to me. He had a trapezoidal neck nearly as thick as his head and lips as thin as sliced meat. His skin was the ruddy red of a man used to working outdoors and seemed even redder against his white T-shirt.
I don’t know what he ordered or how many people were with him. He had two or three, but I have no idea if they were friends, family or coworkers. Something tells me it was the latter. I don’t remember what he ordered. Probably sausage sandwiches.
But him. I remember him. I remember his face and his eyes. I remember how he thanked me and those thin lips stretched up into a smile that cut off at his eyes. I remember watching him pay for the food and walk out of the store. I wasn’t sure exactly why, but I never wanted to see that man again.
His name was David Maust, a 51-year-old who had murdered three boys and buried them under in a layer of concrete in his Hammond, Indiana, basement. In 1974, he had killed a young man in Germany and served four years in prison. In 1981, he had killed another young man in Texas and served 17 years, and was released in 1999. A county sheriff had written in bold letters on the cover sheet of his arrest record “BAD GUY”.
Between his release and 2003, David Maust had killed three more boys and young men, first winning them over with alcohol and drugs, then murdering them. Neighborhood witnesses had spotted the young men with Maust and it didn’t take police dogs long to discover the bodies in the basement, even under the concrete.
Maust was given three life sentences for the murders. In 2006 he hung himself in his jail cell. In a note he admitted everything and apologized for his crimes.
To this day, I hope that I didn’t see one of those young men with him that day in the meat market, but I might have.
I worked at that meat market for seven years and out of the thousands and thousands of customers, how did I remember one guy who came in one time and made one unremarkable order? Easy. There was something very off about him.
Those that write about serial killers have a dozen ways of describing their eyes, and the descriptions are so similar they’d be cliche if they weren’t true. Soulless. Dark. Stony. Coal-black. Impish. Devilish. Hard. Cruel. Et cetera.
I orbited this article for days, wondering how and if I’d write it. My greatest concern was in conveying what locking eyes with a serial killer was like. Clumsy as my writing might be, if I couldn’t come up with the right comparison, I wouldn’t write the article. But I think I did.
It was like this…
In 1970, robot designer introduced a theory in robotics called the Uncanny Valley, which explains how people react to mechanical devices that represent human beings. What researchers hypothesize is that the closer a robot gets to looking human, the more we enjoy it…until it gets TOO close. At that level, our enjoyment turns immediately to disgust. This theory helped explain why audiences turned away from early attempts to CGI humans (like The Polar Express and Tron: Legacy), and why many people find humanoid robots disturbing or creepy.
In my opinion, that feeling stems from a subconscious anger at seeing something mimic humanity. To living people, its almost blasphemous.
In recent years, the strides in robotics have given us robots like Sophia and Repilee Q2. Technological achievements, sure, but just…creepy. And no matter how well the robot is built, its eyes are always the give away.
And THAT is what meeting Maust was like.
It was meeting something that looked and talked and acted like a human, and did it so well that it was impossible to tell the difference, until you got to the eyes. There, it was just a calculator or a machine. Eyes into a mind so diseased by compulsion and anger that it had decayed into nothing but an biological on/off switch.
I don’t ever want to see eyes like that again.
Luckily, serial killers are extremely rare, not only in Indiana but across the world. The majority of children emerge and recover from traumatic experiences healthy and have healthy and fulfilling lives. Psychopaths and sociopaths are much more common in fiction than real life. An experienced therapist and friend once told me meeting a psychopath isn’t exciting or intriguing or frightening. It’s boring, like having a conversation with a machine that lies. There’s no point because there’s just nothing to see. It’s just lies all the way down.
This is the first and last article I’ll write about Indiana serial killers for our website. I’m not being holier-than-thou, and I don’t want to accuse anyone of morbidity if they want to know more. I used to rake in and read true crime books by that shovel full when I was younger. But after meeting Maust, working with kids from abusive homes in the classroom, and having children of my own, I just don’t want to see anymore unless I have to. No matter how much ad space it sells.
Ladies and gentlemen, there’s so many great things about Indiana that trotting out stories of killers and murders and cruelty seems unproductive.